April 25, 1950
“Thank you for having the courage to offer me a contract in pro basketball. I hope I’ll never give you the chance to regret it.”
(Text of a telegram from Chuck Cooper to Celtics owner Walter Brown)
Long before the NBA draft was a glitzy televised prime-time event the Celtics made history with their second-round pick in 1950 when they selected Duquesne All-American forward Chuck Cooper. What made their selection ground-breaking was the fact that Cooper was the first Black player drafted in a fledgling league marking its fifth season.
As other owners expressed their concern and dismay, Brown stood his ground and remarked, “I don’t give a damn if he’s striped or polka dot or plaid, Boston takes Chuck Cooper of Duquesne.”
The Celtics’ historic move had already been overshadowed by the fact they’d skipped selecting Bob Cousy with the first overall pick, instead choosing 7-footer Charlie Share. Luck would eventually catch up with them when they selected Cousy’s name in a drawing held after the team that had originally drafted him (Tri-Cities) went out of business before playing a game.
Two days after their history-making draft the Celtics hired 32-year-old Red Auerbach as head coach and general manager and the die was cast for the building of a dynasty.
In an interview with journalist George Sullivan Cooper recounted the significance of his selection by the Celtics.
“I’m convinced that no NBA team would have made the move on blacks in 1950 if the Celtics hadn’t drafted me early, taking me on the second round. Seven rounds later the Washington Caps took Earl Lloyd, and a couple of months later the New York Knicks bought Sweetwater Clifton’s contract from the Harlem Globetrotters. But it was a case of the Caps and Knicks following the Celtics’ lead. Walter Brown was the man who put his neck on the line.”
Bob Cousy would say of his teammate, “Chuck Cooper was a man of class, intelligence, and sensitivity who blazed a trail that wasn’t easy. He was also a pretty damn good basketball player.”
The Celtics honored Cooper with a special commemorative banner that hung from the TD Garden rafters in 2000-01 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his being drafted by Boston and in 2019 he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.