PITTSBURGH — It has been a long 22 months, but Tuesday night at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse, there were smiles aplenty, but perhaps none were wider than that of Chuck Cooper III.
The entire night, Cooper III was processing the facility which will display his father’s name, and could not stop recording video and taking photos to commemorate the occasion.
“It’s a beautiful state-of-the-art facility and I’ve had the chance to appreciate the fact they are honoring my dad,” Cooper said before the game. “I can’t wait to see the Dukes play. Right now, I’m just happy these guys get a chance to establish the Coop as their house and begin a new era of Duquesne basketball.”
As Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot held his postgame press conference following a successful debut for “The Coop” against Dayton, it was clear how much the victory meant.
Dambrot made sure to explain how much having Cooper’s name attached to the building meant.
“Chuck has been around our program a lot and spent a lot of time with our players because I think that is really important,” he said. “His ties to the city and the African-American community through all of the racial tensions that have gone on in the last year it’s important that he is around our guys.”
For his part, Cooper has desired to give back to the community, something which is a life-long goal.
“I ran an afterschool program back in the 90’s when Pittsburgh had its most serious gang problems,” said Cooper. “One of the key messages is that it is all about education. My dad is grateful that he could play and lead at Duquesne but he also appreciated that he got a great education. Education is a key to success.”
Cooper’s father of course attended Duquesne, and his impact as the first African-American player drafted by an NBA team, which came in the second round of the 1950 draft by the Boston Celtics, has been compared to what Jackie Robinson was able to accomplish in baseball.
“I don’t give a damn if he’s striped, plaid or polka dot,” Boston Celtics owner Walter A. Brown said at the time of Cooper’s selection. “Boston takes Charles Cooper of Duquesne.”
He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Sept. 9, 2019.
Cooper established the Chuck Cooper Foundation in 2013 which has awarded close to $300,000 in graduate-level scholarships, while growing outreach to students of all ages.
The aim has been informing those students and many others about Cooper’s legacy, and explaining the importance of education.
Accomplishments such as making the basketball hall of fame and now the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse opening will help Cooper further tell the story and explain what the foundation does.
In past seasons, Duquesne has played in an annual Chuck Cooper Classic which the university did after receiving Cooper’s blessing. Given it was assisting Duquesne, the Rooney family and PNC, the answer was an immediate yes. After all, his father worked at PNB, the predecessor to PNC.
As previously mentioned, Cooper attended Wednesday’s official soft-opening of the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse, and intends to get to as many games as possible, of which two are slated in Sunday’s contest versus VCU and a Feb. 20 affair against Massachusetts.
Cooper is a father though so he intends on planning to practice caution, though as long as things remain safe, he will be in the stands cheering the team he has long supported.
“I am so excited for the university but most for the players,” said Cooper. “I went to Schenley High School and though we were the winningest highest in Western Pennsylvania we did not have a home gym. We played at West Penn Recreation Center, so I can really relate to what these guys went through. It is one reason why I am so thrilled and excited for the players.”