Harold Hunter (basketball)

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Harold Hunter (April 30, 1926 – March 7, 2013) was an American basketball coach and player. On April 26, 1950, Hunter became the first African American to sign a professional contract with any National Basketball Association (NBA) team when he joined the Washington Capitols.[1][2][3] He was cut from the team during training camp and never played for an NBA team.[1] He later coached basketball for the United States men's national basketball team, Tennessee State University, and the U.S. Olympic basketball team.

Early life[edit]

Hunter was born on April 30, 1926, in Kansas City, Kansas.[4] He graduated from Sumner High School, now known as Sumner Academy of Arts & Science, in 1944.[2] The school, which had a top ten national ranking in science at the time, was the only all-black high school left in the city.[2] In 2000, a group of Sumner alumni published a book on the history of the school, "The Sumner Story," which focused on Hunter's career.[2]

Hunter played as a guard for North Carolina College, now known as North Carolina Central University, in Durham, North Carolina.[1] He is credited with helping the North Carolina Central men's basketball team win the 1950 Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association Tournament championship[1] and was named the most valuable player of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament that year.[2]

In 1984 the university inducted Hunter into its Athletic Hall of Fame.[1] The university also retired his basketball jersey in 2009 to mark the university's centennial.[1][3] The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) inducted him into its hall of fame in 1987.[3]

In 1950, Harold Hunter was drafted during the 10th round of the 1950 NBA draft into the Washington Capitols basketball team.[1] He signed a contract with the Capitols on April 26, 1950, the day after the draft, becoming the first African American player to sign a contract with any NBA basketball team.[1][2] However, he was cut from the team during the Capitols' training camp and did not play professionally for any NBA team.[1][2]

Coaching career[edit]

In 1959, Hunter became the head coach for the Tennessee State University Tiger's men's basketball team, succeeding outgoing coach John McLendon.[1] He coached TSU for nine seasons from 1959 to 1968, leading the team to a 172-67 winning record, including four instances of more than twenty wins in a row.[1] Seventeen of Hunter's Tennessee State players were drafted into the NBA.[1] Hunter still holds the record as the second-winningest men's basketball coach in Tennessee State's history.[3]

Hunter became the first African American to coach the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team in 1968,[1][2] leading them during their tour of the Soviet Union and Europe.[3] He took the U.S. team to a victory over the Soviet national basketball team in a game held in Minsk, present-day Belarus.[3]

Hunter also became the first African American to lead both men's and women's teams to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national basketball tournament.[2] He later coached both men's and women's college basketball at Xavier University of Louisiana from May 1974 to 1977; as an assistant coach for Dillard University's women's team under head coach Mary Teamer during the 1980s; and at Southern University from 1986 to 1991.[3] All of these schools are in New Orleans.

He began coaching Xavier's Gold Rush basketball team in May 1974 following the departure of previous coach Bob Hopkins.[3] Under Hunter, the team placed 11-9 in the 1974-75 season (including his first seven games with the team), 12-15 in the 1975-76 season, and won six games during the 1976-77 season.[3] He was succeeded as coach by Bernard Griffith in 1977.[3] He encouraged the players to participate in charitable activities: In 1975, the team repainted the university's St. Michael's residence hall during summer break.,[3] and they played an exhibition game to benefit the Big Brothers of Greater New Orleans on November 8, 1975.[3]


Hunter and his wife, Jacqueline, resided in New Orleans after his retirement from coaching.[2] They were forced to leave New Orleans and move to Tennessee after Hurricane Katrina struck and flooded the city in 2005.[2][3]

Hunter was interviewed for the 2008 ESPN documentary, Black Magic, which focused on early, pioneering basketball players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States.[3]

Harold Hunter died at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, at 6:55 a.m on March 7, 2013, at the age of 86.[1][2][3] He was survived by his wife, Jacqueline T. Hunter, a biology faculty member at Xavier University of Louisiana; daughter, Micki; and son, Harold Jr.[2][3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Former Tennessee State basketball coach Harold Hunter dies". The City Paper. 2013-03-07. Retrieved 2013-03-30.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m McDowell, Sam (2013-03-09). "Sumner grad Harold Hunter, first African-American to sign with NBA team, dies at 86". Kansas City Star. Retrieved 2013-03-30.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "NBA pioneer Harold Hunter, an ex-Xavier coach, died Thursday". Times-Picayune. 2013-03-07. Retrieved 2013-03-30.
  4. ^ "Basketball pioneer Harold Hunter passes away". Hendersonville Standard. 2013-03-07. Archived from the original on 2013-04-11. Retrieved 2013-03-30.