Donald Angelo "Don" Barksdale (March 31, 1923 – March 8, 1993) was a professional Basketball player. He was a pioneer with a number of African-American firsts to his credit.
Born in Oakland, California, Don Barksdale 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 playing skills in park basketball and then played for two years for Marin Junior College, across San Francisco Bay, before earning a scholarship to UCLA A 6'6" center at UCLA, he became the first African American to be named consensus All-American in 1947. Barksdale was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter organization established for African Americans.
In 1948, he was the first African American to play with the U.S. Olympic team. He joined the team in Basketball. He became the first Africa-American basketball player to win a gold medal in the Summer Olympics.
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.
"This guy fought, fought, and fought," Barksdale said, "and I think finally the coach of Phillips 66 [Omar Browning] had 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 the very first Wildcat national championship in the 1948 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament. The rest of the Olympic team, consisting of the AAU Champions Phillips Oilers, and the Kentucky team later scrimmaged on Stoll Field 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.
Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky coach, was the assistant coach on the 1948 team under Omar Browning.
"[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.
After college, he played for the Oakland AAU team until the NBA began to integrate. Through Barksdale's basketball-playing years, he was also starting 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 in the Bay Area. He became the first African American television host in the Bay Area with a show called Sepia Review on KRON-TV.
In 1951, he signed a lucrative contract with the Baltimore Bullets and entered the NBA as a 28-year-old rookie. He would be the third African-American to sign an NBA contract after Chuck Cooper joined Boston and Earl Lloyd signed with Washington. While with the Bullets, he became the first African American to appear in an NBA in the 1953 NBA All-Star Game. Shortly afterward, he was traded to the Boston Celtics. Two years later, his playing career was cut short by ankle injuries.
In February, Bounce: The Don Barksdale Story is scheduled to be broadcast on FSN Bay Area. The documentary was produced by Doug Harris for Athletes United for Peace, a Berkeley-based youth sports and media organization.
- 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:1574883615
- Rice, Russell - Adolph Rupp: Kentucky's Basketball Baron. Sports Publishing LLC, 1994, ISBN:0915611988
- Thomas, Ron - They Cleared the Lane: The NBA's Black Pioneers. University of Nebraska Press, 2004 ISBN:0803294549
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