(From Colin Dunlap for the Duquesne Dukes Blog of the PittsburghPost-Gazette Online)
When Duquesne plays at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday against Savannah State, the game will be part of the Chuck Cooper Classic — along with a game just before it, between West Virginia State and Davis & Elkins at 1 p.m.
Here is what you need to know about Chuck Cooper (pictured, above) and the games that will be played Saturday in his honor.
In 1950, Cooper, a Pittsburgh resident and Duquesne University graduate became the first African-American selected in the NBA Draft. After his professional basketball career, he distinguished himself in community development in Pittsburgh. In recognition of these accomplishments, Duquesne University and The PNC Financial Services Group this weekend will present a special concert tribute and college basketball tournament to honor him.
“Synthesis,” an urban soul and jazz showcase featuring Rex Rideout, Sean Jones, and singer-songwriter Dwele, will honor Cooper’s legacy with a performance at the August Wilson Center Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 4. The event is free and open to the public.
“We are pleased to partner with PNC Bank in recognizing Chuck Cooper’s groundbreaking contributions to the game of basketball,” Duquesne director of athletics Greg Amodio said. “Chuck has brought honor and prestige to the University and we are proud to honor him with this event.”
A Westinghouse High School graduate, Cooper attended West Virginia State prior to enrolling at Duquesne following World War II. While at Duquesne, Cooper led the Dukes to a 78-19 record and two NIT appearances. He captained the 1949-50 Dukes squad to a 23-6 record and No. 6 national ranking, earning All-American honors. Cooper then played six seasons in the NBA., beginning with the Boston Celtics, before going back to school to earn a masters degree in social work from the University of Minnesota in 1961.
Cooper returned to Pittsburgh and worked his way up to the position of director in several neighborhood anti-poverty organizations. He was named head of the city’s parks and recreation department in 1970, becoming Pittsburgh’s first black department director. Later, he actively represented PNC Bank with regulators and community organizations and in recruiting activities with colleges.
He died on Feb. 5, 1984. He was 57.