COM’s Basketball Court Named After Trailblazing Player Don Barksdale
Don Barksdale was one of basketball’s all-time greatest players and was one of the first African Americans to break the color barrier to play professionally in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He is considered one of the most significant alumni to have attended College of Marin (COM).
Barksdale’s accomplishments on and off the court reflect the decades-long battle of African Americans for human rights, civil rights, and liberation. COM is honored to name the College’s basketball court after such a legendary figure. The dedication and celebration in honor of Don Barksdale is an unparalleled opportunity to showcase COM’s work on equity, inclusion, antiracism, and empowerment.
Born in Oakland in 1923, Barksdale loved playing basketball from a young age. He attended Berkeley High School in the 30s and was cut from the basketball team, as the rules allowed only one Black player per team and the coaches had already filled that spot. So, he took to playing at local parks where he sharpened his skills.
COM’s basketball coach saw him play in an East Bay park and offered him a scholarship to play for the College, making COM his first school team. Barksdale and fellow classmate Emerson Chapman led the team to two state championships where Barksdale was named most valuable player. He played at COM from 1941-43, when segregation, Jim Crow and lynching were still legal throughout the United States.
His success at COM launched Barksdale’s basketball career and started a long line of firsts. He transferred to UCLA and became the first African American player to be named NCAA All-American. In 1948, he was the first African American to play on a U.S. Olympic team; they took home the gold that year. Because the NBA restricted Blacks from playing professionally until 1950, he didn’t begin his career until he was 29 years old. He was one of the first Black men to play in the NBA and the NBA All-Star team, and he was one of the highest paid players in the entire league. He would be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame posthumously in 2012.
“Unfortunately,” recalled Barksdale of his basketball career, “I was 29 or 30 when I turned pro because the NBA had been closed to Blacks for so long. I had lost three or four good years that I could have been playing. I do not think I ever reached my potential in pro ball.”
During his basketball career in college and as a professional, he was frequently separated from his teammates due to Jim Crow laws. He had to lodge in separate hotels and eat in restaurants that allowed African Americans. He would regularly remind his coaches that he couldn’t join the rest of the team because of the restrictions he knew he had to follow.
His career spanned the return of African American troops from World War II, the racist implementation of redlining in housing, and the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. The viscous lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Rosa Parks occurred just months after an ankle injury ended his basketball career in 1955.
Barksdale went on to become a very successful Bay Area radio host and pioneering entrepreneur well into the 80s. Even before his sports career ended, he had a weekly television show on the Bay Area’s KRON, Channel 4, called “Sepia Review,” broadcasting musical film clips from well-known Black entertainers, such as Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole. He became one of the first Black disk jockeys in the Bay Area, known as “Big Daddy.” He deejayed a midday Rhythm and Blues show six days a week for the radio station KBIA Lucky 13 on AM 1310 for over twelve years.
He always remembered where he came from and was a reliable part of the Oakland community where he grew up. In the 80s, he saw school sports in Oakland were being threatened by budget cuts. He decided to create a nonprofit organization, Save High School Sports. His work in basketball, radio, and television allowed him to call upon friends Ronnie Lott, fellow COM alum Bill Walsh, Lou Rawls, and B.B. King to raise funds and bring attention to his cause. Raising almost a million dollars and single-handedly saving sports from being eliminated in Oakland schools at that time.
Barksdale was unfailingly thought of as a gentleman who continuously gave back to his community. And as a player, even though Barksdale endured racism and ostracization, he was able to become one of the best basketball players in the game, paving the way for African American players to follow in his footsteps.
Barksdale is the only COM athlete inducted into the Community College League of California COA Hall of Fame. Enshrined three years after his death in 1996, he joined the likes of Jackie Robinson, Warren Moon, Joe Morgan, Flo Hyman, Valerie Brisco-Hooks, and Brad Gilbert. And in 2007, he was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame.
Barksdale is legendary for breaking racial barriers in basketball, business, television, and radio, as well as giving back to his community. In June 2020, COM’s Board of Trustees made a unanimous decision to name the basketball court after the renown alum. The pandemic delayed the ceremony for almost two years amid limitations and safety concerns for inside gatherings.
A celebration dedicating COM’s basketball court after trailblazing basketball player Don Barksdale will be held Friday, April 29, 2022, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Diamond PE Center, 700 College Avenue, Kentfield.
Register to attend and find out more about the Court Dedication, Jersey Retirement, and Celebration in Honor of Don Barksdale at: https://barksdale.eventbrite.com Learn more about Don Barksdale online.
This event is cosponsored by COM’s Umoja Equity Institute, COM Athletics, Play! Marin, and Associated Students of College of Marin (ASCOM).