By Breanna Smith, History Center communications assistant –

Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Three years later, Pittsburgher Chuck Cooper shattered another racial barrier when he became the first African-American drafted by an NBA team.

Mr. Cooper was born Sept. 29, 1926, in Pittsburgh and attended Westinghouse High School. After graduation, the 6-foot-5 Cooper enrolled at historically black West Virginia State in 1944. He played with the team for one semester before joining the U.S. Navy in the late stages of World War II.

When he returned from his two-year tour of duty, he enrolled at Duquesne University. He led the Dukes to the National Invitation Tournament twice, earning NCAA All-America second team honors while the Dukes captain for the 1949-50 season. His senior year marked the first time a Duquesne team was nationally ranked for an entire season.

After graduating in 1950, Mr. Cooper was drafted as the 12th overall pick by the Boston Celtics. His NBA career lasted six years from 1950-56. After leaving the Celtics in 1954, he played for the Milwaukee/​St. Louis Hawks and the Fort Wayne Pistons. Following a car accident that injured his back, he retired from basketball.

He died Feb. 5, 1984, at age 57. His memory lives on at Duquesne through the Chuck Cooper Classic, an annual tournament that began in 2009, and his retired No. 15 jersey hangs on the wall at the A.J. Palumbo Center.

Visitors to the Heinz History Center can see Mr. Cooper’s All-American uniform as part of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. Information:


From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 8, 2015. Article: