Don Barksdale played only four seasons in the NBA, never averaged more than 13.8 points per game and made only one All-Star team. Yet he will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday in recognition of his contributions beyond the court.
Barksdale was the first black player to be named to an NBA All-Star team, but his inspiring story goes deeper than that. Because the basketball coach at Berkeley High School instituted a limit of only one black player on his team, Barksdale did not play organized ball until he enrolled at Marin Junior College. After tranferring to UCLA, Barksdale became the first African-American consensus NCAA All-American in 1947. The following year he became the first African-American to compete on the U.S. Olympic basketball team, and then the first African-American to win an Olympic gold medal in basketball.
Following the Olympics, Barksdale's basketball days appeared to be over. The NBA did not allow black players, and Barksdale intended to turn his love of music into his career. After the NBA's color barrier was broken in 1950, Barksdale turned down contract offers from professional teams because they wanted him to take a pay cut from his salary as a Bay Area disc jockey.
Barksdale finally entered the league with the Baltimore Bullets as a rookie at the age of 28, and the following season he became the first black NBA All-Star. Within two years, however, ankle injuries ended his career, and Barksdale left the game to focus on music once again.
Learn more about Barksdale in the video below.
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