Don Barksdale

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Don Barksdale
Don Barksdale.jpg
Barksdale with the Boston Celtics in 1953.
Personal information
Born(1923-03-31)March 31, 1923
Oakland, California
DiedMarch 8, 1993(1993-03-08) (aged 69)
Oakland, California
Listed height6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)
Listed weight200 lb (91 kg)
Career information
High schoolBerkeley (Berkeley, California)
CollegeUCLA (1946–1947)
Playing career1948–1955
PositionForward / Center
Number6, 17
Career history
1948–1949Oakland Bittners
1950–1951Oakland Blue n' Gold Atlas
19511953Baltimore Bullets
19531955Boston Celtics
Career highlights and awards
Career NBA statistics
Stats at
Basketball Hall of Fame

Donald Argee Barksdale (March 31, 1923 – March 8, 1993) was an American professional basketball player. He was a pioneer as an African-American basketball player, becoming the first to be named NCAA All-American, the first to play on a United States men's Olympic basketball team, and the first to play in a National Basketball Association All-Star Game. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Early life[edit]

Born in Oakland, California to Argee Barksdale, a Pullman porter,[1] and Desoree (née Rowe) Barksdale, Don 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 basketball playing skills in parks, and then played for two years at Marin Junior College, across San Francisco Bay, before earning a scholarship to UCLA. A 6'6" center for the Bruins, in 1947 he became the first African American to be named consensus All-American. Barksdale was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.[2]

Barksdale owned one of only two black-owned record stores in Los Angeles during his time in UCLA. This had him interacting closely with performers like Etta James, Lou Rawls, and Nat King Cole.[3]


In 1948, he was the first African-American on the U.S. Olympic basketball team. He joined the team in Basketball at the 1948 Summer Olympics, and became the first African-American to win an Olympic gold medal in basketball.[4][5]

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.[6]

"This guy fought, fought and fought", Barksdale said, "and I think finally the coach of the Phillips 66ers Omar Browning 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 that school's first national championship in the 1948 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament. The rest of the Olympic team, consisting of AAU Champion Phillips 66ers and Kentucky team members, later scrimmaged on Stoll Field, then the home of the Kentucky football team, 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.[7]

Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky coach, was assistant coach on the 1948 team under Omar Browning.[8]

"[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.

Professional career[edit]

After college, he played for the Oakland AAU team until the NBA began to integrate. While playing professional basketball, he started 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 and the first African-American television host in the Bay area with a show called Sepia Review on KRON-TV.[6]


In 1951, he signed a lucrative contract with the Baltimore Bullets and entered the NBA as a 28-year-old rookie. He would be one of the first African-Americans to play in the NBA after Nathaniel Clifton, Chuck Cooper, Earl Lloyd and Hank DeZonie had joined the league in 1950. While with the Bullets, he became the first African-American to appear in an NBA All-Star Game, in 1953.[4] Shortly afterward, he was traded to the Boston Celtics. Two years later, his playing career was cut short by ankle injuries.[6]

Later years[edit]

After his basketball career ended he returned to radio, started his own recording label and opened two nightclubs in Oakland.

In 1983 he launched the Save High School Sports Foundation, which is credited with helping to save Oakland school athletic programs from collapse.[4]


He succumbed to throat cancer at the age of 69 on March 8, 1993 in Oakland, California. He was survived by his sons Donald and Derek.[9]


A documentary on Barksdale's life, Bounce: The Don Barksdale Story, was released in 2007. The documentary was produced by Doug Harris for Athletes United for Peace, a Berkeley-based youth sports and media organization.

For his significant contributions to broadcasting in the San Francisco Bay Area, Don Barksdale was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame in 2007. His sister, Pam Barksdale-Gore, accepted the posthumous honor on his behalf.[10]

On February 24, 2012, Barksdale was announced as a member of the 2012 induction class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was directly elected by the Hall's Early African-American Pioneers committee, and formally entered the Hall as a contributor on September 7.[4]

NBA career statistics[edit]

  GP Games played   GS  Games started  MPG  Minutes per game
 FG%  Field goal percentage  3P%  3-point field goal percentage  FT%  Free throw percentage
 RPG  Rebounds per game  APG  Assists per game  SPG  Steals per game
 BPG  Blocks per game  PPG  Points per game  Bold  Career high

Regular season[edit]

1951–52 Baltimore 62 32.5 .338 .691 9.7 2.2 12.6
1952–53 Baltimore 65 35.4 .387 .641 9.2 2.6 13.8
1953–54 Boston 63 21.6 .376 .662 5.5 1.9 7.3
1954–55 Boston 72 24.9 .382 .651 7.6 1.8 10.5
Career 262 28.5 .370 .660 8.0 2.1 11.0
All-Star 1 11.0 .000 .333 3.0 2.0 1.0


1954 Boston 6 17.7 .306 .727 4.5 1.2 5.0
1955 Boston 7 17.4 .450 .857 5.0 1.4 7.7
Career 13 17.5 .382 .813 4.8 1.3 6.5

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A pioneer in green
  2. ^ Alpha Phi Alpha, Gamma Xi chapter Archived August 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d "Five Direct-Elects for the Class of 2012 Announced By the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame" (Press release). Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. February 24, 2012. Archived from the original on March 14, 2012. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  5. ^ Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill. "Don Barksdale Olympic Results". Olympics at Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c Thomas, Ron (2004)
  7. ^ Rice, Russell (1994)
  8. ^ Bricker, Charles – "Eventually, He Made it to the NBA", Knight-Ridder News Service, Philadelphia Inquirer, January 15, 1984.
  9. ^ "Don Barksdale, 69, One of First Blacks To Play in N.B.A.", The New York Times, March 11, 1993
  10. ^ Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame: The Class of 2007


External links[edit]