Chuck Cooper III’s efforts made sure his dad got into Hall of Fame
Chuck Cooper was first African American drafted into the NBA
Basketball pioneer Chuck Cooper had his son, Chuck Cooper III, later in life and a car accident limited the father-son time the two might have otherwise shared on a basketball court. But when Cooper III was about 13, he remembered his father taking him to a playground court and telling him about the longest shot — a three-quarter-court shot — he had ever hit in his career.
“Then he picked up the ball from that spot, shot it and it went in,” the young Cooper recalled. “There were no tapes from when my dad played, so I never knew about how talented he was. When he hit that shot, that was the first indication I had about how great of a player he was.”
On April 25, 1950, Chuck Cooper was the first black player to be drafted by the NBA. But that moment never connected in history as much as Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball in 1947, and young people today have trouble acknowledging any accomplishment that doesn’t appear on YouTube.
Perhaps a new generation will appreciate Cooper’s accomplishment with the announcement Saturday that he’ll be inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2019.
Other inductees announced on Saturday include Al Attles, Sidney Moncrief and Teresa Weatherspoon.
Cooper, who was 57 when he died in 1984, enters the hall through efforts of the Early African-American Pioneers Committee.
His son, Cooper III, found out about his father’s induction Tuesday.
“I was in my office when the call came, and the moment was truly unbelievable,” said Cooper III, who runs the Chuck Cooper Foundation. “We’ve been on the short list of the early African-American Pioneers committee for a few years now, so I’m feeling elation and joy. I just wish he was here to smell the roses.”
Cooper was a college star at Duquesne University, leading the school to two NIT appearances. Though Cooper was the first African American player to be drafted by the NBA, Earl Lloyd eventually became the first African American to play in an NBA game when he took the court on Oct. 31, 1950 — one day before Cooper.
During his career, Cooper played four seasons with the Boston Celtics, one season with the Milwaukee Hawks and split his last season playing with the St. Louis Hawks and Fort Wayne Pistons.
After his career ended, Cooper went back to school, and eventually graduated with a master’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota, which is right down the road from where his Hall of Fame induction was announced at the site of this year’s Final Four.
Today Cooper III runs the foundation that, as part of its mission, provides college scholarships for African American students who are pursuing master’s-level of higher degrees.
“My dad is part of history, and him going into the Hall of Fame gives us a chance to teach young people about his legacy,” Cooper III said. “I think the world should know about the talent, sacrifice and contributions my father made to the NBA and beyond.”