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David “Smokey” Gaines (1942–2020), former Harlem Globetrotter and college coach

by Linnea Crowther

David “Smokey” Gaines was a basketball player with the Harlem Globetrotters before going on to coach at Detroit Mercy.

Player and coach

After attending LeMoyne-Owen College, Gaines was drafted by the Detroit Pistons. But he also had a chance to play for the Harlem Globetrotters, and he took that offer, joining the team in 1963. Gaines stayed with the Globetrotters until 1967. He later played briefly for the Kentucky Colonels before joining the coaching staff at University of Detroit under head coach Dick Vitale. When Vitale left the team, Gaines was promoted to head coach, becoming the team’s first Black head coach. He went on to become head coach at San Diego State University. In later years, Gaines became athletic director for Memphis City Schools.

Gaines on his love for basketball

“Basketball meant a lot to me. The competition was tough. Hey, in Detroit, everything’s tough, to tell you the truth… But [playing basketball] taught me to deal with competition, with the elements around me. And when I was able to deal with the elements around me, I was able to deal with everything else when I left. Because it was tougher bein’ in the ghetto.” —from a 1983 interview with the San Diego Reader


Tributes to David “Smokey” Gaines

Full obituary: The Detroit News

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