In the world of basketball, David “Smokey” Gaines was a phenom as a player and coach.
The sharp-shooting guard, who died Sept. 5, was a standout at LeMoyne College (now LeMoyne-Owen), the Harlem Globetrotters and with the Kentucky Colonels of the old American Basketball Association.
“He was a very flamboyant person. Bigger than life. He made people feel good,” said William Anderson, the current head basketball coach of the LeMoyne-Owen Magicians.
The 80-year-old Gaines died of cancer, his family said. He also contracted COVID-19, The Detroit News reported.
The Detroit native had made Memphis his home.
Gaines gained his nickname because of his sharpshooting on Detroit playgrounds, the News reported.
Gaines was an All-State selection in Michigan in 1959. He played for LeMoyne College under legendary Coach Jerry Johnson from 1959-63.
From 1963-67, he traveled the world, playing for the world-famous Globetrotters.
In January 2006, Gaines was the 24th person in team history to be honored with the prestigious “Legends” Ring presented to retired Globetrotters who have made a major contribution to the success and development of the Hall of Fame organization.
“Each honoree exemplifies the Harlem Globetrotters’ humanitarian contributions and it’s the second highest honor a former player can receive outside of jersey retirement,” according to the team’s website.
Gaines briefly played basketball for the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association.
And, he was a winning coach.
“Smokey was a motivator, he just had his way of doing it and he got the most out of you,” Earl Cureton, one of Gaines’ Detroit Mercy players, told The Detroit News.
“We had one of our most successful seasons when he took over, but he just wasn’t a great coach, he was a great individual. He came from some hard times and made his way out and reached his dream of playing with the Globetrotters and in the ABA.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Gaines was a nightclub owner, a comedian, a promoter, a single-digit handicap golfer and even a furniture salesman.
He was a believer in education, earning a master’s degree in 1970 from Eastern Michigan University.
Gaines began coaching at Detroit-Mercy as a part-time assistant under Dick Vitale in 1973 and took over when Vitale stepped down after the 1976-77 season.
During his two seasons at Mercy, Gaines’ first team went 25-4 and made the NIT quarterfinals. The next season, the Titans were 22-6 and made the NCAA Tournament, falling in the first round.
Gaines became the first African-American to coach a Division 1 basketball program in the state of California when he accepted the coaching position at San Diego State University in 1979.
He was the conference coach of the year in 1984-85 when he led the Aztecs to a 23-8 record and won the conference tournament and played in the NCAA Tournament. His 20 victories in the 1981-82 season marked the first time the Aztec program reached that plateau since joining Division I for the 1970-71 season. He compiled a record of 112-117 in eight seasons with the Aztecs.
Chester Collins, a teammate of Gaines when he played at LeMoyne, kept their friendship for life. He was in continual contact with Gaines and was happy for his success with playing for the Globetrotters and leading a team to the NCAA tournament.
“Even as a freshman David was a heck of a player. He was a very good guard and played very loose,” said Collins.
Gaines returned to LeMoyne-Owen as basketball coach and athletic director from 2005 to 2008.
For several years, Gaines was also the head of the Memphis Interscholastic Athletic Association for the legend Memphis City Schools.