Oakland Bittners, Don Barksdale 2nd from right 2

Donald Argee "Don" Barksdale (March 31, 1923 – March 8, 1993) was a pioneering basketball player from Oakland. He was the first Black player to be named NCAA All-American, the first to play on a US men's Olympic basketball team, and the first to play in an NBA All-Star Game. He was posthumously inducted into the NBA hall of fame.

Barksdale was born March 31, 1923 to Argee Barksdale, a Pullman porter and Desoree Rowe (Barksdale). He attended nearby Berkeley High School, but he was repeatedly cut from the team because the coach didn't want more than one Black player.

After earning a scholarship to UCLA, Barksdale became the first Black player named a NCAA All-American in 1947. In 1948, he was selected for the US men's Olympic basketball team, becoming the first Black player selected to the team, and the first to win a gold medal in basketball. There was strong opposition to his selection, but Fred Maggiora who was a member of the Olympic Basketball Committee lobbied hard for his inclusion.

Ironically, one of his best friends on the trip was legendary then-segregationist Adolph Rupp:

"[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. 1

After college, Barksdale played for the Oakland Bittners, an Amatuer Athletic Union (AAU) basketball team, until the NBA began to integrate.

After an NBA career shortened by an ankle injury, Barksdale 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 collapsing.

Links and References

  1. Bricker, Charles – "Eventually, He Made it to the NBA," Knight-Ridder News Service, Philadelphia Inquirer, January 15, 1984 (via Wikipedia)
  2. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Oakland Tribune Collection