Commentary

La Salle's Moore never saw himself as a pioneer

Updated: February 29, 2008, 11:28 AM ET
By Donald Hunt | Special to ESPN.com

Jackie Moore never considered himself a trailblazer for African-American basketball players. Moore just wanted to play. However, he was one of the players who opened the doors for many blacks.

Moore was the first black athlete to play for La Salle University and the NBA's Philadelphia Warriors. He played for the Explorers from 1951-54. He was a member of the Warriors from 1955-57. Today, Moore, 74, is retired and lives in Charlotte, N.C.

"You know, the strange thing is I didn't even think of being the first or being a pioneer," Moore said. "I was just doing something I liked to do. There weren't many blacks playing when I came up.

"When I played at La Salle, I rarely played against another black player. I was the only black player on the court most of the time. It was the same way with the Warriors."

[+] EnlargeJackie Moore
Courtesy La Salle UniversityJackie Moore, far right, was the first African-American to play for La Salle and later the NBA's Philadelphia Warriors.
Moore, a 6-foot-5, 192-pound forward, was a star at Philadelphia's legendary Overbrook High School. He led the Panthers to three consecutive Public League championships (1948-50). In 1949, he scored 25 points in a league playoff game, which happened to be the most in a playoff game at that time; his effort carried Overbrook to a 47-44 victory against Frankford to capture the league crown.

Fred Douglas, a teammate of Moore's at Overbrook High, says his story should be told to younger players. Douglas believes today's NBA players should know Moore's story, too.

"These guys don't understand what Jackie had to deal with," Douglas said. "People can't relate to his situation, but they should know it. He was a pioneer. He was a terrific player. In the lane, nobody could stop him. He had tremendous body control. He could rebound, pass and shoot the hook shot. I made the team in 10th grade when he was in his second year at Overbrook."

Moore grew up in West Philadelphia. He played a lot of basketball at Haddington Recreation Center (now Shepard Recreation Center) where former Overbrook High standouts such as Wilt Chamberlain, Wali Jones, Walt Hazzard, Wayne Hightower and Lewis Lloyd showcased their skills. Of course, all these players came after Moore. He set the foundation for them.

"We played some good basketball at Haddington," Moore said. "Everybody would gather there to play on a regular basis. The playground always had some of the best players in the city. There was always a crowd of people waiting to play."

Moore was one of the top schoolboy players in Philly. He was fortunate to play for La Salle because the local colleges weren't recruiting African-American players.

"There were a lot of guys who had to go to schools outside of Philadelphia," said Moore, who was an All-Public League selection. "They were mostly playing for historically black colleges. I just went to La Salle and didn't think about being the first black to play there. It wasn't difficult as far as the athletic part because the team was mostly from Philadelphia. We were all good friends. I knew Tom Gola, Buddy Donnelly and Norm Grekin."

Gola, a Hall of Famer, Donnelly and Grekin were members of La Salle's 1952 NIT team, which defeated Dayton for the championship. Gola and Grekin shared MVP honors. Moore scored eight points in the title game.

But there were some rough times on the road, where travel accommodations had to be changed because some restaurants wouldn't serve blacks. The team didn't tolerate any racial discrimination.

"If we went somewhere to eat dinner and he couldn't get served, we didn't eat there," Donnelly said. "It wasn't easy for him. But he handled everything very well. He did a lot for basketball in this city. He was the second-best player to come out of Overbrook behind Wilt Chamberlain. We all liked Jackie."

Playing in the NBA was much harder for blacks in those days, according to Moore. If you were an African-American, you had to be a sensational talent to play in the league.

"It was a clear case where you had to be better," Moore said. "If you were just as good as a white player, then the white player would get the job. They also had a limit on the number of black players in the league."

Moore didn't have a lengthy pro career. He averaged 2.7 points in three seasons. He played on the Warriors' 1955-56 NBA championship team, which featured Paul Arizin, Neil Johnston, George Dempsey, Ernie Beck and Gola, his college teammate.

Moore is a big part of black history in the NBA. His name is frequently mentioned with Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Harold Hunter and Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton.

Lloyd, a Hall of Famer, was the first black to play in an NBA game (on Oct. 31, 1950). He played for the Washington Capitols during the 1950-51 season. Later he became the NBA's first African-American assistant coach and the league's second black head coach (both with the Pistons).

Cooper's first game was Nov. 1, 1950 (with the Boston Celtics), one day after Lloyd. Clifton's debut with the New York Knicks was on Nov. 4, 1950.

Cooper was the first black player drafted by the NBA. On April 25, 1950, he was selected by the Celtics in the second round out of Duquesne; that same day, the Capitols drafted Lloyd in the ninth round and Hunter in the tenth round.

Hunter signed with the Capitols the next day -- on April 26, 1950 -- becoming the first African-American to sign an NBA contract. Clifton was the second, inking a deal with the New York Knicks in May 1950.

"Jackie and Earl Lloyd really helped to change things," Beck said. "They played before Wilt Chamberlain and guys like Woody Sauldsberry and others. I've known Jackie since high school. He was the only African-American on our Warriors team. He was a very soft-spoken, quiet person, who could really play basketball."

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. He can be reached at dhunt37261@aol.com.