David Gaines, 1st Black Coach of California Division 1 Program, Dies at Age 80

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2020

Basketballs fill a net before a second round women's college basketball game between Iowa and Missouri in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 24, 2019, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Former Detroit Mercy and San Diego State head men's basketball coach David "Smokey" Gaines died Saturday at the age of 80.

"Our father, David 'Smokey' Gaines transitioned to his eternal resting place this morning. Sunrise: February 27, 1940 - Sunset: September 5, 2020," a Facebook post from Davita Gaines-Stewart said.

Mark Zeigler of the Los Angeles Times noted Gaines suffered a stroke in 2018 and died from complications with liver and brain cancer.

Before he was a college basketball coach, Gaines was a sixth-round draft pick of the Detroit Pistons but chose to try out for the Harlem Globetrotters instead. He played for the Globetrotters for four years and was inducted into their "Legends Ring" in 2006.

What's more, Gaines spent part of one season on the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association.

Current ESPN announcer and then-Detroit Mercy head coach Dick Vitale hired Gaines as an assistant coach on his staff in 1973, and Gaines took over as the head coach four years later when the Pistons hired Vitale. Gaines coached Detroit Mercy for two seasons, going 47-10 and making the NCAA tournament in the second year.

Gaines also coached San Diego State for eight years as the first Black coach of a Division I program in California.

He went 112-117, coached baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and won a Western Athletic Conference Coach of the Year during the 1984-95 campaign when he led the Aztecs to the NCAA tournament.