Don Barksdale
Barksdale, circa 1948
Personal information
Born(1923-03-31)March 31, 1923
Oakland, California, U.S.
DiedMarch 8, 1993(1993-03-08) (aged 69)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Listed height6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)
Listed weight200 lb (91 kg)
Career information
High schoolBerkeley (Berkeley, California)
BAA draft1947: undrafted
Playing career1948–1955
PositionPower forward / small forward
Number6, 17
Career history
1948–1949Oakland Bittners
1950–1951Oakland Blue n' Gold Atlas
19511953Baltimore Bullets
19531955Boston Celtics
Career highlights and awards
Career NBA statistics
Points2,895 (11.0 ppg)
Rebounds2,088 (8.0 rpg)
Assists549 (2.1 apg)
Stats Edit this at Wikidata at
Stats Edit this at Wikidata at
Basketball Hall of Fame
Men's basketball
Representing  United States
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1948 London Team competition
Pan American Games
Gold medal – first place 1951 Buenos Aires Team competition

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 (NBA) All-Star Game. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Early life

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 at Marin Junior College from 1941 to 1943 before earning a scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles.[2] He and fellow junior college transfer Bill Putnam joined the Bruins midseason in 1942–43,[3] following the team's loss of Johnny Fryer, an Army reserve who was called to serve in World War II.[4] Playing in just the final five conference games of the year, the 6-foot-6-inch (1.98 m) Barksdale was named by sportwriters as the top center of Pacific Coast Conference Southern Division. He joined the Army in March 1943,[5] and returned from the war for the 1946–47 season.[6] He became the first African American to be named consensus All-American. Barksdale was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.[7]

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.[8]


See also: Basketball at the 1948 Summer Olympics

In 1948, he was the first African-American on the U.S. Olympic basketball team. He joined the team at the 1948 Summer Olympics, and became the first African-American to win an Olympic gold medal in basketball.[9][10]

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.[11]

"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.[12]

Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky coach, was assistant coach on the 1948 team under Omar Browning.[13]

"[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

See also: Race and ethnicity in the NBA

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.[11]


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.[9] Shortly afterward, he was traded to the Boston Celtics. Two years later, his playing career was cut short by ankle injuries.[11]

Later years

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.[9]


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.[14]


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.[15]

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.[9]

The character D'Angelo Barksdale from the HBO series The Wire was named in tribute to Don Barksdale.[16]

NBA career statistics

  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

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


  1. ^ A pioneer in green
  2. ^ "Don Barksdale". College of Marin Athletics. Retrieved October 21, 2020.
  3. ^ "Jaysee Transfers Bolter Bruin Five". Los Angeles Times. February 14, 1943. Part II, p. 10. Retrieved July 16, 2023 – via
  4. ^ Wolf, Al (January 26, 1943). "Bruin, Trojan Quintets Hit". Los Angeles Times. Part I, p. 17. Retrieved July 16, 2023 – via
  5. ^ "Barksdale Rated Top Court Player". The Pittsburgh Courier. March 20, 1943. p. 19. Retrieved July 16, 2023 – via
  6. ^ "UCLA Coach Forecasts Best Basketball Season". West Los Angeles Independent. October 25, 1946. p. 30. Retrieved July 16, 2023 – via
  7. ^ Alpha Phi Alpha, Gamma Xi chapter Archived August 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Barksdale film reveals multiple layers of Bay Area legend". February 27, 2016.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Don Barksdale Olympic Results". Olympics at Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on April 18, 2020. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  11. ^ a b c Thomas, Ron (2004)
  12. ^ Rice, Russell (1994)
  13. ^ Bricker, Charles – "Eventually, He Made it to the NBA", Knight-Ridder News Service, Philadelphia Inquirer, January 15, 1984.
  14. ^ "Don Barksdale, 69, One of First Blacks To Play in N.B.A.", The New York Times, March 11, 1993
  15. ^ Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame: The Class of 2007, August 9, 2014
  16. ^ Dwyer, Kelly (September 5, 2012). "Don Barksdale, Hall of Famer (VIDEO)". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved May 1, 2021.