Dedicated To Chuck’s Legacy

By Jack Bogaczyk
Updated: September 25, 2009

Chuck Cooper

Chuck Cooper

INSTITUTE, W.Va. — West Virginia State’s connection to the first black player drafted in NBA history has gained the Yellow Jackets a game in a Division I setting.

Coach Bryan Poore’s 2009-10 team will play a West Virginia Conference game against Davis & Elkins in the inaugural Chuck Cooper Classic, a doubleheader scheduled Dec. 5 at Duquesne University’s A.J. Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh.

The host Dukes, coached by Fairmont native Ron Everhart, face Savannah State in the other Cooper Classic game. Times for the Cooper Classic games have not been set.

Poore said West Virginia State will receive a $10,000 guarantee, plus a $5,000 scholarship in Cooper’s name from Duquesne, as well as hotel expenses. D&E is getting a $5,000 guarantee.

The State-D&E game was originally set at Fleming Hall on the Institute campus. A return game in Elkins is scheduled Feb. 18.

“We’d like to make this an annual event, and we were looking to bring in some of the traditionally black colleges to play because we felt it was fitting, and we started with West Virginia State,” said Dave Saba, Duquesne’s associate athletic director for media relations. “It was tough finding teams, with the (financial) guarantees being what they are today.

“West Virginia State and Davis & Elkins were gracious enough to move a conference game up here, and having State in the first one is really appropriate, considering the tie-in with Chuck Cooper.”

Savannah State is a traditionally black college with a Division I program.

Cooper, a Pittsburgh native, starred at Westinghouse High and headed for West Virginia State in 1944.

He played one semester for the Yellow Jackets before leaving school to enter the U.S. Navy during the latter stages of World War II.

After the war, Cooper returned home and enrolled at Duquesne under the GI Bill.

In 1950, the 6-foot-4 Cooper led the Dukes (23-6) to a season-long national ranking and the NIT, where they lost to eventual NIT (and NCAA) champ CCNY in the semifinals.

Cooper was a consensus All-America second team pick that season. He played briefly for the Harlem Globetrotters, and on April 25, 1950, he became the first black player picked in the NBA Draft.

“I don’t give a damn if he’s striped, plaid or polka-dot, Boston takes Charles Cooper of Duquesne,” was how Boston Celtics owner Walter Brown made the selection. Cooper was the 13th player selected, and No. 2 in the second round.

Cooper, who played six NBA seasons, died in 1984 at age 57.

The ninth-round pick in 1950 by the Washington Capitols was Earl Lloyd of West Virginia State – one round after Morris Harvey guard George King was selected by the Chicago Stags. The 6-5 Lloyd would add to State’s hoops history by becoming the first black to play in an NBA game on Oct. 31, 1950.

Cooper’s Celtics didn’t open the 1950-51 season until the next night. Lloyd is enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, in Springfield, Mass.

“Duquesne contacted us and said they’d try to find us a Division II opponent,” Poore said. “They told us the date and we thought about moving the D&E game to another, but then we asked just about playing the game up there. D&E was OK with it, and now they don’t have to play at the Pit (Fleming Hall).

“It’s a great event for us to be in. I’ve talked to Earl Lloyd about it, and he is going to try and come up (from his home in Tennessee) to Pittsburgh for it. With Chuck Cooper having played here, anything we can do that ties us to our history here at State is important.”