Don Barksdale

Don Barksdale

Barksdale with the Boston Celtics in 1953.
Personal information
Born (1923-03-31)March 31, 1923
Oakland, California
Died March 8, 1993(1993-03-08) (aged 69)
Oakland, California
Nationality American
Listed height 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)
Listed weight 200 lb (91 kg)
Career information
High school Berkeley (Berkeley, California)
College UCLA (1946–1947)
Playing career 1948–1955
Position Forward / Center
Number 6, 17
Career history
1948–1949 Oakland Bittners
1950–1951 Oakland Blue n' Gold Atlas
19511953 Baltimore Bullets
19531955 Boston Celtics
Career highlights and awards
Career NBA statistics
Points 2,895
Rebounds 2,088
Assists 549
Stats at
Basketball Hall of Fame

Donald Argee Barksdale (March 31, 1923 – March 8, 1993) was an American professional basketball player. He was a pioneer as an African-American basketball player, becoming the first to be named NCAA All-American, the first to play on a United States men's Olympic basketball team, and the first to play in a National Basketball Association All-Star Game. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Early life

Born in Oakland, California to Argee Barksdale, a Pullman porter,[1] and Desoree (née Rowe) Barksdale, Don attended nearby Berkeley High School, where the basketball coach cut him from the team for three straight years because he wanted no more than one black player.


Barksdale honed his basketball playing skills in parks, and then played for two years at Marin Junior College, across San Francisco Bay, before earning a scholarship to UCLA. A 6'6" center for the Bruins, in 1947 he became the first African American to be named consensus All-American. Barksdale was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.[2]


In 1948, he was the first African-American on the U.S. Olympic basketball team. He joined the team in Basketball at the 1948 Summer Olympics, and became the first African-American to win an Olympic gold medal in basketball.[3]

Barksdale, who had been playing with the Amateur Athletic Union's Oakland Bittners, was given an at-large berth from the independent bracket, but not without heavy lobbying by Fred Maggiora, a member of the Olympic Basketball Committee and a politician in Oakland, which was adjacent to Barksdale's hometown. About eight years later, Maggiora told Barksdale that some committee members' responses to the idea of having a black Olympian was "Hell no, that will never happen." But Maggiora wouldn't let the committee bypass Barksdale.[4]

"This guy fought, fought and fought," Barksdale said, "and I think finally the coach of the Phillips 66ers Omar Browning said, 'That son of a bitch is the best basketball player in the country outside of Bob Kurland, so I don't know how we can turn him down.' So they picked me, but Maggiora said he went through holy hell for it – closed-door meetings and begging."

The 1948 Olympic team had five Kentucky Wildcats basketball players who had just won that school's first national championship in the 1948 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament. The rest of the Olympic team, consisting of AAU Champion Phillips 66ers and Kentucky team members, later scrimmaged on Stoll Field, then the home of the Kentucky football team, in front of 14,000 spectators, the largest crowd to watch basketball in Kentucky at that time. Barksdale became the first African-American to play against Kentucky in Lexington. He could not stay at the hotel with the rest of the team, but instead stayed with a black host family.[5]

Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky coach, was assistant coach on the 1948 team under Omar Browning.[6]

"[Rupp] turned out to be my closest friend," Barksdale said. "We went to London and won all 12 games and got the gold medal." But he had to brush off indignities just about every step of the way. . . Later, coach Rupp told Barksdale, "Son, I wish things weren't like that, but there's nothing you or I can do about it." Barksdale agreed. He lived by a very simple philosophy. He wasn't interested in protest; he was interested in playing basketball. He had faced prejudice before, and he knew that he would face it again.

Professional career

After college, he played for the Oakland AAU team until the NBA began to integrate. While playing professional basketball, he started a career in radio broadcasting. In 1948, he became the first black radio disc jockey in the San Francisco Bay area. He also worked in television and owned a beer distributorship. He became the first African-American beer distributor and the first African-American television host in the Bay area with a show called Sepia Review on KRON-TV.[4]


In 1951, he signed a lucrative contract with the Baltimore Bullets and entered the NBA as a 28-year-old rookie. He would be one of the first African-Americans to play in the NBA after Nathaniel Clifton, Chuck Cooper, Earl Lloyd and Hank DeZonie had joined the league in 1950. While with the Bullets, he became the first African-American to appear in an NBA All-Star Game, in 1953.[3] Shortly afterward, he was traded to the Boston Celtics. Two years later, his playing career was cut short by ankle injuries.[4]

Later years

After his basketball career ended he returned to radio, started his own recording label and opened two nightclubs in Oakland.

In 1983 he launched the Save High School Sports Foundation, which is credited with helping to save Oakland school athletic programs from collapse.[3]


He succumbed to throat cancer at the age of 69 on March 8, 1993 in Oakland, California. He was survived by his sons Donald and Derek.[7]


A documentary on Barksdale's life, Bounce: The Don Barksdale Story, was released in 2007. The documentary was produced by Doug Harris for Athletes United for Peace, a Berkeley-based youth sports and media organization.

On February 24, 2012, Barksdale was announced as a member of the 2012 induction class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was directly elected by the Hall's Early African-American Pioneers committee, and formally entered the Hall as a contributor on September 7.[3]

See also


  1. A pioneer in green
  2. Alpha Phi Alpha, Gamma Xi chapter
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Five Direct-Elects for the Class of 2012 Announced By the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame" (Press release). Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. February 24, 2012. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 Thomas, Ron (2004)
  5. Rice, Russell (1994)
  6. Bricker, Charles – "Eventually, He Made it to the NBA," Knight-Ridder News Service, Philadelphia Inquirer, January 15, 1984.
  7. "Don Barksdale, 69, One of First Blacks To Play in N.B.A.", The New York Times, March 11, 1993


  • New York Times Obituaries Don Barksdale, 69, One of First Blacks To Play in N.B.A. New York Times, March 11, 1993. (Don Barksdale obituary)
  • Athletes United For Peace
  • Crowe, Jerry Some overdue recognition for a basketball trailblazer. Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2007
  • Conner, Floyd – Basketball's Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Hoops' Outrageous Deunkers, Incredible Buzzer-Beaters and other oddities. Brasseys's 2002, ISBN 1-57488-361-5
  • Rice, Russell – Adolph Rupp: Kentucky's Basketball Baron. Sports Publishing LLC, 1994, ISBN 0-915611-98-8
  • Thomas, Ron – They Cleared the Lane: The NBA's Black Pioneers. University of Nebraska Press, 2004 ISBN 0-8032-9454-9

External links

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