Keith Dambrot’s link to Duquesne tied to Hall of Famer Chuck Cooper
There are many reasons Keith Dambrot loves being the basketball coach at Duquesne.
Right up there at the top is his connection to legendary Duquesne All-American Chuck Cooper and a bold stand the university took 73 years ago on a December night in McKeesport. It resonates with Dambrot today as if it happened yesterday.
Cooper, who will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday in Springfield, Mass., was the first black player drafted into the NBA. “I don’t give a damn if he’s striped or plaid or polka-dot, Boston takes Charles Cooper of Duquesne,” Celtics owner Walter Brown said at the time.
Long before that historic event, however, Duquesne was scheduled to play Tennessee on Dec. 23, 1946, at McKeesport Vocational School. The Dukes played there in the ‘40s because bleachers at their field house had been donated to a World War II scrap drive.
But, with 2,600 people waiting for the tipoff, the Tennessee team was sent home because their players insisted Cooper not be permitted to play and Duquesne coach Chick Davies refused to comply.
“They took a unanimous team vote, and they sent Tennessee home without a game,” said Cooper’s son, Chuck III. “I really believe that’s when the bond with my dad and Duquesne University of initially forged.”
“I think Duquesne should be very proud because they were so progressive in the ‘40s and ‘50s, where most people weren’t,” said Dambrot, whose father Sid played at Duquesne after Cooper. “We should be very, very proud of what Chuck Cooper’s enshrinement really means. He paved the way for the modern-day African-Americans to play in the league and make the money they are making today.
“He endured the hardships. He took the verbal attacks so it says a lot.”
Dambrot will attend the ceremony Saturday, along with Cooper’s son and several of the greatest names in basketball history who will serve as Cooper’s presenters.
The list includes Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, Tom Heinsohn, Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, Mannie Jackson and Ray Allen.
“Those guys don’t come out of the woodwork for just anybody,” Dambrot said.
Said Cooper III: “They’re not just Hall of Famers. They’re game-changers. I’m incredibly honored.
“Every day, I have my wife pinch me to make sure everything is real. It’s just been an incredible ride.”
Cooper III, who played basketball at Schenley High School, Salem (W.Va.) College and CCAC, said he first learned of his father’s talent when he saw footage distributed by the NBA.
“He’s crossing over. He’s finger-rolling,” he said. “He’s right-handed and he’s shooting left-hand hook shots. I’m like ‘Wow.’ ”
But the son saw his father as more than a basketball player.
“I remember going to the store with him to get a loaf of bread (when they lived in Wilkinsburg Manor),” he said. “I always wanted to be with my dad. But a trip to get a loaf of bread would take hours because people would come up to him and want to talk to him. He was the type of person who just took time for people. He truly loved people.”
The Cooper name will live forever at Duquesne. The renovated Palumbo Center on Forbes Avenue will be renamed the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse when it opens in time for the 2020-2021 season.
Also, the Dukes started wearing a CC patch on their jerseys last season.
“We will continue to wear them as long as I’m the coach, and we will continue to wear them forever as long as I have any say in it,” Dambrot said.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .