About the Foundation
The Chuck Cooper Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit dedicated to honoring the legacy of Chuck Cooper by helping further the education of our young people. The mission of The Chuck Cooper Foundation is to continue the legacy of Charles “Chuck” Cooper, the first African-American drafted into the National Basketball Association, by awarding graduate-level scholarships and by providing comprehensive leadership development, professional skills, and opportunities to underserved students.
Our goal is to propel our students to success in higher education in order to achieve their highest potential in their careers and ultimately, in life.
Charles Henry (Chuck) Cooper was the youngest of six children born September 29, 1926, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Daniel and Emma Cooper. His father, a mailman and his mother, a school teacher established family values of education, achievement, and leadership. He attended Westinghouse High School, where he excelled in academics, music and athletics. Inspired by his oldest brother Cornell, he pursued multiple sports. He joined the basketball team, but almost quit when he realized that he was being forced to do what basketball players sometimes call “dirty work”- Rebounding, playing tight defensive and opening up space for other players, but rarely being given the chance to shoot the ball himself. Coach Ralph Zahnhiser, however, told Cooper he had a strong future in basketball, and Cooper returned to the team.
As a senior at Westinghouse, Cooper averaged over 13 points per game, paced the school to Pittsburgh’s city championship, and was chosen as the All-City first team’s center. Like several other talented young African-American players, Cooper headed for historically black West Virginia State College. He played a promising semester there but left the school to enter the military in the winter of 1944-45, during the late stages of World War II. After a tour of duty on the West Coast, Cooper returned home to Pittsburgh and enrolled at Duquesne University.
It was Cooper’s solid career at Duquesne that attracted the attention of professional scouts and began to give rise to his dreams of a basketball career. Over four years as a starter, Cooper amassed a school-record total of 1000 points. He received several All-American honors during his successful senior year and led the Duquesne squad to two appearances in the then high-profile National Invitational Tournament (NIT).
As he approached his graduation from Duquesne in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in education, Cooper signed on with the famed touring all-black Harlem Globetrotters team. On April 25, 1950, Cooper was selected in the second round of the NBA draft by Boston Celtics owner Walter Brown. When an associate pointed out that Cooper was black, Brown answered that he didn’t care whether Cooper was “striped, plaid, or polka dot.”
The 6-foot, 5-inch, 200-lb. Cooper made his debut with the Celtics on November 1, 1950, and he went on to produce a strong rookie season. He played in 66 games, averaging 9.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and sparking a renaissance in the Celtics’ drooping fortunes. Cooper formed bonds with his teammates, including future Celtics great Bob Cousy, with whom he would sometimes go out in the evening to listen to jazz concerts. During his basketball career, in addition to playing with the Celtics, Cooper also played with the Milwaukee Hawks and the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Pistons. While with the Pistons, he played in the 1956 NBA Championship.
After basketball, Cooper continued his education and earned a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Minnesota in 1960. Driven by a spirit of excellence and concern for others, upon his return to Pittsburgh he carried out his commitment to community by leading several anti-poverty organizations. In 1970, he was selected by Mayor Pete Flaherty as Director of Parks and Recreation, becoming the first African American to head a department in the city of Pittsburgh. Later he transitioned to Pittsburgh National Bank, where as Urban Affairs Officer he spearheaded affirmative action programs and community development projects.
Throughout his career, Cooper continued to volunteer his talents and support to various boards and civic organizations. He was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1974 and in 1983 Duquesne established a Chuck Cooper Award to honor talented basketball underclassmen. He died at the age of 57 on February 5, 1984 of liver cancer. He is survived by his wife Irva and his children; Carolyn, Catherine, Charles (Chuck) III, and Cheryl. In 2009 his son Chuck and a team of talented professionals established the Chuck Cooper Foundation to continue Cooper’s legacy of education and leadership by granting graduate school scholarships to underserved students.