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Chuck Cooper Named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

DU great to be inducted in September

 

Former Duquesne All-American and National Basketball Association trailblazer Chuck Cooper (1947-50) was named to the 2019 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class it was announced in conjunction with the Final Four in Minneapolis today.

Cooper, the first African-American drafted by an NBA team, was one of 14 nominees presented to the special direct-elect Early African-American Pioneers Committee. He joins Cumberland Posey, class of 2016, as the second former Duquesne player in the Hall of Fame.

"I don't give a damn if he's striped or plaid or polka-dot, Boston takes Charles Cooper of Duquesne!" were the history-making words of Boston Celtics owner Walter Brown when he chose Cooper with the 13th pick (second round) of the NBA Draft on April 25, 1950.

Cooper was one of three African-American players who made an indelible impact on the NBA in 1950-51 along with Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton and Earl Lloyd. Clifton, the first African-American to sign an NBA contract, and Lloyd, the first African-American to appear in an NBA game - he took the floor one day before Cooper - were inducted to the Hall in 2014 and 2008 respectively.

Cooper, Clifton and Lloyd were among a group of five ranked 22nd on ESPN.com's list of the 25 Most Influential Players in NBA history released last spring.

"I truly believe this, that if the Celtics did not draft Chuck [Cooper] in the second round, you could not tell me that the Washington Capitols in 1950 were going to make me the first black player to play in this league. No way ...," said Lloyd to the Boston Globe in 2008.

The Cooper legacy was most recently recognized by Duquesne University with the announcement that the Dukes' on-campus basketball home, which is in the first phase of a comprehensive renovation, will be named UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse when it is set to re-open for the 2020-21 season.

Cooper spent four seasons with Boston where he played for legendary coach Red Auerbach and was a teammate of the great Bob Cousy. As an NBA rookie, Cooper helped the Celtics improve from sixth to second place in the Eastern Division and make the playoffs for the first time in three years. During his six-year NBA career (1950-51 to 1955-56), he was also a standout performer for the Milwaukee Hawks and Fort Wayne Pistons. He helped lead his team to the playoffs five times, including the 1956 season when the Pistons advanced to the NBA Finals. Cooper's lifetime NBA statistics include 2,725 points, 2,431 rebounds and 733 assists.

Charles Henry Cooper was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., on September 29, 1926. He attended Westinghouse High School, leading the team to the City League title and being named all-city at center as a senior. Chuck's older brother, Cornell Cooper, greatly influenced his athletic aspirations. Cornell, who was 15 years older than Chuck, was a world-class athlete in track and field who competed against Jesse Owens. He attempted several times to compete collegiately, but opportunities for African-Americans during that period were virtually non-existent.

Chuck began his college basketball career at historically black West Virginia State before entering the U.S. Navy in 1945. He served proudly in the military for two years prior to enrolling at Duquesne. Cooper's basketball career flourished on The Bluff as he led the Dukes to a 78-19 record and two appearances in the National Invitational Tournament in three seasons. He was the captain and leading scorer for a 1949-50 team that was the first in school history to be ranked for an entire season. The 1950 squad, which reached No. 2 in the Associated Press Poll, finished with a 23-6 record and No. 6 national ranking. The '50 Dukes advanced to the semifinal of the NIT before falling to eventual champion City College of New York.

Following his graduation from Duquesne in 1950, Cooper signed with the Harlem Globetrotters. Globetrotters owner Abe Saperstein, who had a monopoly on professional African-American players at the time, reluctantly released Cooper from his contract so he could sign with the Celtics. Cooper rejoined the Globetrotters for the World Series of Basketball against the College All-Americans after the NBA season each year through 1953 and twice earned MVP votes.

Cooper, a member of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, earned a bachelor's degree in education from Duquesne in 1950. After his basketball career concluded he continued to blaze a trail, earning a master's degree in social work from the University of Minnesota in 1960. In 1970, he became the City of Pittsburgh's first African-American department head when he was named to lead the Parks & Recreation Department. He later served as Pittsburgh National Bank's first Urban Affairs Officer.

Cooper passed in May of 1984.

Cooper's uniform number, 15, was retired by Duquesne in 2001. The Chuck Cooper Classic, an annual home game played each February during Black History Month, was established by the Department of Athletics in 2009 to pay tribute to Chuck's numerous accomplishments. The Chuck Cooper Building, located on Fifth Avenue on the Duquesne campus, was named in his honor in 2011.  

Enshrinement festivities for the 2019 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class will take place in Springfield, Mass., the birthplace of basketball, September 5-7, 2019. Tickets for the various Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2019 Enshrinement events are available here.

Duquesne University President Ken Gormley
    "Duquesne University has always placed an extremely high value on diversity, tolerance and inclusion. It's now a source of enormous pride to see one of our own, one who paved the way for so many others, to be recognized by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Chuck Cooper was more than an All-American athlete; he was an inspiration and emblematic of our highest hopes for Duquesne graduates. I'm thrilled that Chuck Cooper's family, and the whole Duquesne family, can now share in celebrating this richly-deserved honor."

Director of Athletics Dave Harper
    "Duquesne University Athletics is so pleased that Chuck Cooper has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. As you look at the history of basketball, Chuck was a pioneer, leader, and a source of inspiration at both the professional and intercollegiate levels. He was a hall of fame person and continued his impact after his playing days by serving in many key roles in the City of Pittsburgh. Having his name on our newly renovated UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse is an honor, but now the well-deserved tag of "Hall of Famer" with his name only adds to our sense of pride and his legacy. We congratulate the Cooper family, especially his son, Chuck III, on this tremendous honor."

Head Men's Basketball Coach Keith Dambrot
    "Through my father [Sid], who followed Chuck Cooper as a player at Duquesne, I was afforded a firsthand account of Chuck's greatness as a basketball player and as a man. The way he handled the weight of being the first African-American drafted with such grace and dignity has made the NBA what it is today, a truly inclusive and global league. I am overjoyed for Chuck III and the Cooper family and proud and honored to be a Duquesne Duke. There is no one more deserving of this honor than Chuck - one of the NBA's true trailblazers."

Dr. Freddy Fu, Chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, UPMC
    "We are fortunate to have had Chuck Cooper represent this city. His dedication to the game was only rivaled by his dedication to his hometown. UPMC is proud to be associated with Chuck Cooper's legacy through our partnership with Duquesne University."

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