First ever afro player to sign with NBA team, 86-year old Harold Hunter dies

harold-hunterHarold Hunter, the coach of Xavier University of Louisiana men’s basketball teams during the mid-1970s, died at 6:55 a.m. on Thursday at his home in Hendersonville, Tenn. He was 86 years old.

Hunter was 29-29 as coach of the Gold Rush but achieved greater fame outside of Xavier. He was the first African-American to sign an NBA contract — April 26, 1950, with the Washington Capitols, who drafted him in the 10th round — and the first African-American to coach a U.S. Olympic basketball team.

Harold Hunter was a stand-out guard from North Carolina College. Hunter led NCC to the title game of the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association National Tournament. In the tenth round of the 1950 NBA draft, Washington Capitols coach Horace McKinney selected Hunter to join Earl Lloyd on the club.

The next day, April 26, 1950, Hunter became the first African-American player to sign an NBA contract.

Unfortunately, Hunter’s skill level was not enough to maintain a roster spot, and Hunter was cut during training camp.

Hunter succeeded Bob Hopkins as coach of the Gold Rush in May 1974. Hunter’s first two teams finished 11-9 in 1974-75 and 12-15 in 1975-76. Bernard Griffith, an assistant on Hunter’s staff, replaced Hunter as head coach after the Gold Rush won six of its first 11 games in 1976-77.

Hunter is the second-winningest men’s basketball coach at Tennessee State; his teams were 172-67 in nine seasons (1959-68). His first Tennessee State team placed third at the NAIA National Championship, and he sent 17 of his players from that school to the NBA.

In 1968, Hunter coached the U.S. Olympic team during its tour of Europe and the Soviet Union and led the Americans to a victory against the Soviet national team in Minsk.

After Xavier, Hunter remained in New Orleans and continued coaching. He was an assistant on Mary Teamer’s Dillard women’s team, which finished third at the 1984 NAIA National Championship, and he coached SUNO’s women from 1986-91. Hunter and his wife moved from New Orleans to Tennessee after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Additional honors of Hunter include induction into the CIAA Hall of Fame in 1987, retirement of his jersey by North Carolina Central in 2005, being named one of the top 100 sports legends at North Carolina Central during the university’s centennial in 2009, and a Sam Lacy Pioneer Award from the National Association of Black Journalists’ Sports Task Force at the NABJ’s 2012 convention in New Orleans.

Hunter was quoted extensively in “Black Magic,” a 2008 ESPN documentary about basketball pioneers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).


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