The late legendary basketball player Chuck Cooper was a trailblazer who broke color barriers in the realm of sports. 35 years after his passing, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native has finally received a long overdue honor. According to Celtics Wire, Cooper was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Cooper was a second-round pick during the league’s 1950 draft; making him the first African American player to enter the NBA. He was selected by the Boston Celtics. Before he launched his NBA career, he broke racial barriers at the collegiate level while playing at Duquesne University where he was an All-American and became the first Black player to compete in a basketball game below the Mason–Dixon line. Cooper—who had a 6-foot-5 and 210-pound stature—spent four years with the Celtics and also had stints with the Milwaukee Hawks and the Ft. Wayne Pistons. His journey in the NBA was no easy feat. He had to deal with racist taunting from crowds and was banned from restaurants and hotels due to the color of his skin. After his time in the NBA, he played with the Harlem Magicians basketball enterprise but eventually ended his sports career after suffering back injuries from a car accident.
Several basketball legends were in attendance to honor Cooper including Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Isiah Thomas, Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, and Ray Allen. “The NBA’s color barrier was broken, and the game of basketball forever changed,” said Cooper’s son said during the induction ceremony. “It truly amazes me how the early African American pioneers played at such a high professional level while having to sacrifice, endure, and withstand the overt racism and social injustice of that time period.”
Black athletes who have forever changed the landscape of sports are finally being recognized by the organizations they’ve impacted. Cooper’s induction comes weeks after a sculpture of Althea Gibson—the first African American to win a Grand Slam title and the first Black person to win at Wimbledon—was recently unveiled outside of Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, New York during the U.S. Open tennis tournament.