NBA: Black Lives Matter – Part 2
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by Henry L. Liao
To the uninitiated, Charles Henry (Chuck) Cooper was the first African-American to be drafted by a team in the National Basketball Association.
The Boston Celtics picked the 6-5 Cooper with the first selection in the second round of the 1950 NBA draft – the 14th choice overall – on April 25, 1950.
Before the Celtics drafted Cooper, a 6-5 small forward-shooting guard out of West Virginia State University (1944-45) and Duquesne University (1946-50), where he was an All-American, had signed up with the all-black world-famous Harlem Globetrotters, a comedic barnstorming pro team, coming out of college.
Following the Celtics’ lead, the Washington Capitols grabbed Earl Francis Lloyd from West Virginia State College in the ninth round of the same draft. A 6-5 forward who was known for his defense, was taken at No. 100 overall.
Another Black, guard Harold Hunter, was corralled by the same Capitols in the 10th round out of North Carolina College, now known as North Carolina Central University in Durham, California
A day later, Hunter signed with the Capitols, becoming the first African-American to ink a contract with any NBA franchise in league history. Hunter, though, 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.
A day after the NBA college draft, Abe Saperstein, the “white” owner of the Globetrotters, reportedly notified the NBA that he won’t take his popular team to Boston or Washington again.
For the first time, the Trotters needed to compete for black talent now that Cooper and Lloyd were drafted for the NBA.
Soon thereafter, the team also lost the services of Nathaniel (Sweetwater) Clifton to the New York Knickerbockers.
On May 24, 1950, the Knicks purchased the contract of the 6-6 Clifton, a product of Xavier University in Louisiana, from the Trotters for $12,500.
In effect, Clifton obtained free-agent status and signed with the Knicks in September 1950.
Clifton, who got his moniker because of his love for soft drinks, was paid $7,500 for the 1950-51 season.
A fourth Black player, 6-6 Henry (Hank) DeZonie, joined the NBA later during the 1950-51 campaign, but he appeared in just five games with the Tri-Cities Blackhawks.
Cooper made his NBA debut on November 1, 1950, against the Fort Wayne (now Detroit) Pistons, contributing seven points in the Celtics’ 107-84 loss to the Pistons at Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The rub of the NBA schedule, though, made Cooper only the second African-American to play in an official NBA game – or 24 hours after Lloyd, whose Capitols opened their schedule one day earlier, became the first.
When the history-making Lloyd entered training camp with the Celts that fall, it marked the first time that he had ever interacted with whites.