Chuck Cooper's legacy with Celtics honored with Hall of Fame induction

Chuck Cooper's legacy with Celtics honored with Hall of Fame induction

BOSTON — When it came time to figure who would present the late Chuck Cooper to the Basketball Hall of Fame, his son Chuck Cooper III had a few — OK, quite a few — folks in mind. 

So he did what made the most sense … he asked all 10 possible presenters. 

And they all accepted, which will make the former Celtic's induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, literally a big deal. 

But their willingness to do so speaks to Cooper’s impact on the NBA, as the first black player drafted by an NBA team, in 1950. 

“This is a tremendous honor,” Chuck Cooper III told NBC Sports Boston’s A. Sherrod Blakely. “It means the world to me and my family. Not just for me and my family, but all the supporters of my father’s legacy. That his sacrifices, contributions to the great game of basketball are being recognized at the highest level.”

Cooper, selected by Boston in the second round and 14th overall, joins a long and lengthy list of players and coaches into the Hall of Fame who were part of the Boston Celtics family. 

But the impact of Cooper’s NBA career has had a rippling effect that we still in some sense today. 

He was the first of three black players drafted in 1950, who made their debut that year with Cooper being the first to be selected. 

His son wasn’t sure if his father would ever be recognized by the Hall of Fame for his contributions as a pioneer in leading the diversity efforts of the NBA at a time when segregation was so deeply woven into the fabric of American society.

One of Chuck Cooper’s closest friends on the team was fellow Hall of Famer Bob Cousy. 

“Chuck and I roomed together,” Cousy told NBC Sports Boston.

In addition to being teammates, the two also hung out together socially while in Boston. One of their favorite spots was the Storyville nightclub where they would catch some of the top jazz artists of that time like Errol Garner. 

“We bonded, become friends and remained so for years,” Cousy said.

That friendship was tested, more so on the road and in the south than anywhere else. 

Cousy recalled a trip to Raleigh, N.C. in which the hotel the Celtics were staying at, would not allow Cooper to stay there. 

“He wanted to raise hell,” Cousy recalled.  

Cousy and Cooper wound up getting an overnight train back to Boston. The night was pretty uneventful for them as they drank beer while waiting for their train to come. But before the train’s arrival, the two or so hours of drinking left both men needing to take a trip to the bathroom. 

But like so many things in the segregated south, it wasn’t that easy. 

There was one bathroom with a sign that read, “colored” and another bathroom with signage for whites only. 
“I teared up,” Cousy recalled. “By now he and I, we’re pretty good friends. I was ashamed to be white. I didn’t know how to explain it; even now, I get emotional thinking about it. How do you feel? We’re good friends and run into this kind of overt racism; it’s unexplainable. But I came up with a solution.”

Cousy added, “End of the platform, nobody around … and we peed together so it was a Rosa Parks moment that we couldn’t talk about. It was our response to Jim Crow in those days.”

And while he has been praised for breaking the NBA’s color barrier, it has received minimal fanfare compared to Jackie Robinson, who became the first black player to break into Major League Baseball in 1947.

The year Cooper was drafted by the Celtics, there were two other black players — Earl Lloyd and Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton — who were also selected by Washington and New York, respectively. 

“I wasn’t alone,” Cooper said at the time in an interview with Jet magazine. “I didn’t have to take all the race-baiting and heat on my shoulders like Jackie Robinson. Besides, any black coming after Jackie, in any sport, had it easy compared to the turmoil he lived through.”

But just as Jackie Robinson changed the game of baseball forever when it came to integration, Cooper had a similar impact on the NBA.

That said, his induction into the Hall of Fame was far from a given.  
“Every year that goes by you say, ‘is this gonna happen?’” Cooper III said. “When Earl went in, he recognized my dad and Sweetwater (Clifton). And when Sweetwater got in … I really thought my father might get in.”

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NBA Rumors: 'No traction' on Andre Drummond trade as deadline nears

NBA Rumors: 'No traction' on Andre Drummond trade as deadline nears

If the Detroit Pistons really want to trade Andre Drummond, they'll need to step on the gas pedal.

Teams have "kicked the tires" on a potential Drummond trade but there has been "no traction" on any deal ahead of Feb. 6 NBA trade deadline, Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix reported Friday.

The Boston Celtics reportedly are among the teams interested in the 26-year-old big man, who leads the NBA in rebounds per game (15.7) and ranks eighth in blocks (1.8).

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Drummond would give Boston an answer to Eastern Conference giants like Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Milwaukee's Brook and Robin Lopez while bolstering a thin frontcourt currently holding its own with Enes Kanter and an overachieving Daniel Theis.

As Mannix points out, though, Drummond's $27 million cap hit could be a deal-breaker for many teams, including the Celtics. The C's would have to move Gordon Hayward or Marcus Smart and at least one other player to make salaries match, but the team seems reluctant to part with any members of their core.

If Boston still wants an upgrade, it may find better luck with Davis Bertans; Mannix reports there's a "feeling around the league" that the Washington Wizards "almost have to shop" the 27-year-old big man, who is averaging 15.3 points per game and shooting 43.4 percent from 3-point range amid a breakout season.

What to make of the Celtics amid their midseason tailspin

What to make of the Celtics amid their midseason tailspin

MILWAUKEE — The Boston Celtics will arrive at the midway point of the 2019-20 season this weekend trying to pull themselves out of a tailspin that’s seen them drop five of their last seven games, including a pair of Eastern Conference showdowns with chief rivals Philadelphia and Milwaukee a week apart.

The Celtics have vacillated somewhere between enjoyable overachiever capable of pushing the East’s best to a maddening squad with fatal flaws that might prevent it from truly emerging in the conference. Sometimes they look like both in the same night.

Like on Thursday in Milwaukee when Boston dug itself a 27-point hole as the NBA-leading Bucks hit an absurd barrage of first-half 3-pointers. Just when it seemed fair to suggest that Boston’s early season success might have been the product on feasting on inferior competition, a Jaylen Brown-less Boston squad jumped on Kemba Walker’s back and nearly roared all the way back.

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As coach Brad Stevens likes to remind his team, you’re never as good as you think you are, you’re never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never far from either. The Celtics’ inability to field a fully healthy roster has clouded their overall potential and we’re left making bold proclamations off small samples of good and bad play.

Are the Celtics true contenders? Maybe, but the past couple weeks hasn’t helped their case. Boston is now 7-8 against teams over .500 and only two of those wins came on the road (both when an opponent was missing a key player). They whiffed with a chance to pounce on an Embiid-less Philly last week and then couldn’t capitalize on Giannis-less minutes after getting within single digits in the second half on Thursday night.

Do the Celtics need to make a move? Maybe, but it’d be a lot easier to judge if we could ever see all their puzzle pieces together. Boston’s bench play has been woeful at times and, for all the consternation about their lack of pure size, it sure feels like shooting is what they should be targeting. And yet it’s fair to wonder, if Brown plays on Thursday, and Marcus Smart shifts to his typical bench role, then maybe the bench production doesn’t look as meager.

Ultimately, bench pieces aren’t going to tip this thing one way or another. The Celtics are going to go as far as their five best players can carry them, as Stevens made clear after Thursday’s loss.

"We’re going to ride our best five, as we’ve talked about quite a bit, and then we just need everybody else to play a role around them,” said Stevens. "But we need those five to be awfully good.”

On this night, Walker was exceptional. On the same night that Kyrie Irving delivered one of his patented rants about roster flaws in Brooklyn, Walker challenged himself to be better after a disheartening loss to the Pistons. He responded with a 40-point, 11-rebound outburst in Milwaukee. As Stevens abridged, "Only reason we had a chance.”

The coach added, “It's not [Walker’s] responsibility to be responsible for everybody else’s energy but I’m glad that he accepts it. I’m glad that he wants that. He certainly brought it tonight. He was awfully special tonight.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Gordon Hayward, who has been on a bit of a roller coaster since returning from nerve pain in his foot on Christmas Day. Hayward missed nine of the 10 shots he took — including eight 3-pointers — while finishing with 7 points over 32:15.

“I thought we had some good looks, especially personally, I had some good looks. But we just didn’t make them,” said Hayward. “Have to be better next time.”

But that only accentuates Boston’s rather thin margin for error against the elite (and maybe the not-so elite, too). The team had been undefeated this season when playing without Brown but they really missed him on Thursday. The Celtics don’t have the sort of top-end talent that can win a game individually (though Walker sure as hell tried on Thursday).

A February 6 trade deadline looms. It’s hard to imagine the Celtics making a big-splash move but adding a bench piece — if for no other reason than the run of injuries this team continues to endure — remains something the team must consider. Maybe that’s using picks to help fetch a shooter, or maybe it’s just thumbing through the scrap heap for someone who can be a more steady eighth or ninth man. The youngsters on this team have had their moments but they’re also being asked to do a lot at young ages.

It was telling, though, Thursday when Boston cut its deficit to 8 and Antetokounmpo headed to the bench with just under five minutes to play in the third quarter. Boston should have capitalized but its sub lineups floundered and Milwaukee pushed its lead back up to 20 before Antetokounmpo returned at the end of the quarter. A second Boston run came up just short at the end of the game.

Stevens glowed about how the second half looked more like “Celtics basketball.” Smart insisted the team wouldn’t overreact to this rough patch.

"It’s the NBA. You can’t get discouraged off that,” said Smart. "We’ve played two back-to-back nights and stuff like that. You can’t let that discourage you. That’s part of it. We’re at the 40-game mark. It happens.”

Maybe he’s right. Still, watching this team on a daily basis, we yearn for a glimpse of this team when whole. But who knows if it’ll ever happen. Robert Williams could be a nice jolt for the center rotation if he’s able to come back after the All-Star break but that’s unlikely to alter the path of this team much.

No, the success of this team more likely hinges on Smart, Brown, Tatum, Hayward, and Walker.

“I think we’re still pretty good,” said Hayward. "I don’t think the team is down or anything like that. I think we realize we’ve got work to do and we get right back to it.”

The quest to figure out exactly what these Celtics are continues. They’re not as good as we though they were, they’re not as bad as some will make it seem now. But they’re never quite far from either.