Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big storyline. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
While in Lexington, Barksdale was not permitted to live with his Olympic teammates. He had to tell the owners of the home where he was staying that he had received a death threat. And now, even the sanctity of the basketball court itself had become a stage of racial tension. There was a timeout on the court — without any of the modern distractions of T-shirt flinging mascots and pumped-in music. There were some coaching instructions. There was sweat streaming down. And there was a bottle of water.
It passed from white player to white player to white player to Don Barksdale. He took a drink, then passed it to the next player, a hulking 6-7 forward who had grown up in rural Arkansas: Gordon “Shorty” Carpenter.
“When he handed it off,” Don Barksdale’s son, Derek, said this week, some 64 years later, “everyone gasped.”
Carpenter never hesitated. He took a few gulps of water and then ran back onto the court with his teammates.
“If that guy next to him turned his back, it would have been a rough situation,” Derek Barksdale said. “But when [my father] saw his teammate just grab it and take a drink right after him, it really made him feel good inside … He used to tell that story quite often.”
I can’t fathom living in a world where a white guy taking a drink from the same bottle after a black guy is a poignant, pivotal moment. But back in 1948, that was huge.
I’ll admit, I never knew much about Don Barksdale until his Hall of Fame election. Here’s something to consider:
Don Barksdale was the first African-American player to:
— Earn All-American status (1947 at UCLA)
— Play for the U.S. Olympic team (that ’48 squad)
— Make the NBA All-Star team (1953)
He was a Celtic in 1953, playing with Bob Cousy, who became a life-long friend. In fact, Cousy will be his presenter… which promises to be a touching moment.
I’m going to add one more excerpt from that link, which I encourage everyone to read because it’s got a lot of fantastic stuff:
According to Derek Barksdale, his father spoke very favorably of his years in Boston and did not convey a sense of experiencing much in the way of racial strife in the city. “He absolutely loved it,” said Derek, who works as a chief of police for a Naval base in San Diego.
Boston’s racial history is as dark as many other cities. But I just want to note that for a city that still gets a bad reputation even among NBA players, it has certainly played a huge role in kicking down color barriers in the NBA.
Congratulations to the late Mr. Barksdale for his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. I hope everyone reads that link to get started on learning more about one of basketball’s true pioneers.
If that’s not a reason for you to read, then maybe Cousy’s story about him that starts with “He rode into Boston in ’53 in a big open convertible with a chick on each arm,” is.