CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – One of the Jackie Robinsons of basketball. That’s how Clarksburg-native, Robert “Bob” Wilson, was described Wednesday.
Wilson, who was born in Clarksburg in March of 1926, but passed away in 2014, was honored with a sign in his hometown that shows some of his great accomplishments.
The sign has been added to the Hewes Avenue Parking Garage in downtown Clarksburg.
Wilson attended the former Kelly Miller High School during the early 1940s, played basketball for the Harlem Globetrotters, and most importantly, was one of the very first African-Americans to break the NBA color barrier.
He was a pioneer in his sport, who helped pave the way for so many players who came after him.
“To think that an individual for the little ole town of Clarksburg, West Virginia was one who broke the color line in the NBA. You know, it just goes to show young people what could happen,” said James Griffin, board chairman of the West Virginia Black Heritage Festival. “Often times people feel like if they come from a little ole small town in West Virginia, like Clarksburg, that things can’t happen for them. But he’s a prime example of what can come about.”
Griffin has a great knowledge of Wilson, who was a classmate of Griffin’s mother at Kelly Miller High. There, Wilson helped lead the basketball team to back-to-back state titles.
He won another championship in college at West Virginia State, where he was co-captain of the 1947-1948 undefeated Yellow Jackets team.
But it was in 1951 that he made his greatest accomplishment, as he was one of the first Black players to play in the NBA, paving the way for all of those who came after him.
“To be able to honor one of the sons of Clarksburg, who was one of the Jackie Robinsons of the NBA. Mr. Wilson was one of six Black, African-Americans who broke the color line in the NBA,” said Griffin.
Griffin said he met Wilson, and that he was a great person with a great story.
“It also shows other individuals, who might be going to one of the local high schools that, hey, you too can do that,” he said. “As we head into Black History Month next week, we need to tell these young people about the stories and African-Americans who made contributions to our nation.”
A knee injury ended Wilson’s career prematurely, after just one season with the Milwaukee Hawks.
After his playing days, Wilson became the first black executive of a metropolitan YMCA when he took the position at the Newark, New Jersey location, working 38 years for the organization.
He was inducted into the West Virginia Sports Writers’ Hall of Fame in 2000.
Wilson passed away in August of 2014 at the age of 88, leaving behind quite a legacy.