More NBA historic firsts
EARL Lloyd broke the color barrier in the National Basketball Association (NBA) by becoming the first black man to play in the league on Halloween night in 1950.
And there are more historic firsts for African-Americans in the world’s ultimate cage forum.
All-time great and Hall of Famer Bill Russell, the winningest player in NBA history with 11 title rings during a distinguished 13-year tenure with the Boston Celtics, became the first African-American head mentor in league annals (and all of North American pro team sports leagues) when the Celts named him player-coach on April 18, 1966.
A defensive-minded 6-foot-10 center who concededly was the first black player to achieve superstar status in the NBA, Russell was the fourth choice of then-retiring Arnold (Red) Auerbach to replace him on the Celtics bench after the University of San Francisco alum’s former Boston mates Frank Ramsey, Bob Cousy and Tom Heinsohn turned down the post.
It was Heinsohn who proposed to Auerbach that Russell would be an ideal candidate as player-coach. Russell agreed to become the first black head coach in NBA history, declaring “I wasn’t offered the job because I am a Negro, I was offered it because Red figured I could do it.”
The Celtics lost to arch nemesis Wilt Chamberlain and the eventual NBA champion Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1, during the 1967 Eastern Division finals in Russell’s first year at the helm. He redeemed himself in the next two seasons, capturing titles in 1968 and 1969 to become the first black head coach in league annals to win a championship in 1968.
Russell, who hung up his jersey in the summer of 1969, also was the first black player to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on February 8, 1975. The opinionated five-time NBA Most Valuable Player awardee, however, boycotted the enshrinement ceremonies after charging the organization of racism. At the time, all the members of the Honors Committee that voted for the Hall honorees were white.
Hereunder are more history-making African-Americans.
Charles Henry (Chuck) Cooper was the first African American to be drafted by an NBA team when the Boston Celtics made him the first pick of the 1950 draft’s second round – 14th selection overall – on April 25, 1950.
Before the Celtics drafted him, the 6-foot-5 small forward-shooting guard from West Virginia State University (1944-45) and Duquesne University (1946-50) had signed with the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters, a comical barnstorming pro team, coming out of college.
Cooper made his NBA debut on November 1, 1950 against the Fort Wayne (now Detroit) Pistons.
Another black, guard Harold Hunter, was selected in the 10th round of the 1950 NBA draft by the Washington Capitols out of North Carolina College, now known as North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina.
A day later, Hunter signed with the Capitols, becoming the first African American to sign a contract with any NBA franchise in history. Hunter, however, was cut from the team during training camp and never played professionally for any NBA team. He later worked as a coach for the U.S. men’s national basketball team, Tennessee State University and the U.S. Olympic basketball team.
Another historic moment for African-Americans came in 1953 when Donald Argee (Don) Barksdale became the first black to see action in an NBA All-Star Game.
While with the Baltimore Bullets, Barksdale netted one point, two assists and three rebounds in 11 minutes for the East All-Stars, who lost to the West All-Stars, 79-75, in the third edition of the NBA All-Star Game at Fort Wayne, Indiana on January 13, 1953. It is – until now – the lowest-scoring contest in NBA All-Star history.
A product of the University of California at Los Angeles (1946-47), the 6-foot-6 forward-center also was the first African-American to be named to the NCAA All-America team in 1947 and the first black to suit up for the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team during the 1948 London Games and earn an Olympic gold medal in basketball as well.
In 1951, Barksdale inked a lucrative contract with the Baltimore Bullets and joined the NBA as a 28-year-old rookie. He was traded to the Boston Celtics in the summer of 1953 and after donning the Beantown colors for two seasons, Barksdale called it quits due to ankle injuries.
Barksdale was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September 2012. He was directly elected by the Hall’s Early African-American Pioneers committee under the contributor’s category.
The distinction of being the first African-American to be the majority owner of an NBA franchise belongs to billionaire Robert Louis Johnson, who purchased the Charlotte Bobcats franchise (now known as the Charlotte Hornets) in December 2002. The Black Entertainment Television (BET) founder was succeeded as Bobcats majority team owner in the summer of 2010 by another African-American, the iconic Michael Jordan.
In 2013-14, Jordan and Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, an Indian, made history together as the NBA became the first of the four U.S. major pro team sports leagues to have two non-white majority owners in its fold.
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