Who is Chuck Cooper?
TO the uninitiated, Charles Henry (Chuck) Cooper was the first African-American to be drafted by a team in the American professional league National Basketball Association (NBA).
The Boston Celtics selected Cooper with the first pick in the second round of the 1950 NBA draft – the 14th pick overall – on April 25, 1950.
Before the Celtics drafted Cooper, a 6-foot-5 small forward-shooting guard out of West Virginia State University (1944-45) and Duquesne University (1946-50), had signed up 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 chosen 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 ink a contract with any NBA franchise in league history. However, Hunter was cut from the team during training camp and never played professionally for any NBA club. 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-Star, 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), Barksdale, a 6-foot-6 forward-center, also was the first African-American to be named to the NCAA Division I All-America Team in 1947 and the first black to suit up for the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball squad during the 1948 London Games and earn an Olympic gold medal in basketball as well.
In 1951, Barksdale signed a lucrative contract with the Baltimore Bullets and joined the NBA as a 28-year-old rookie. He was peddled 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 the Bobcats/Hornets 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, a native of Mumbai, India, made history together as the NBA became the first of the four U.S. major pro team sports leagues (Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Hockey League and the NBA) to have two non-white majority owners in its fold.
And in the ongoing 2019-20 campaign, Taipei-born Joseph Tsai, a Chinese-Canadian who lives in Hong Kong and is the co-founder and executive vice chairman of the e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, gained full ownership of the Brooklyn Nets last September after buying out the remaining 51 percent of the franchise stake from Moscow, Russia-born billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who had become the NBA’s first non-North American owner in May 2010 with an 80-percent stake in the then-New Jersey Nets before the franchise relocated to Brooklyn in April 2012. Prokhorov had sold 49 percent of the Nets to Tsai in October 2017.
Overall, Tsai bought the Nets franchise for $2.35 billion – the highest amount ever paid for a sports franchise. A year ago, hedge fund owner David Tepper paid $2.2 billion to buy the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and in October 2017, Tilman Fertitta paid a then-NBA record $2.2 billion to buy the Houston Rockets from Leslie Alexander.
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