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Earl Lloyd, N.B.A.’s First Black Player, Dies at 86

Discussion in 'NBA Dish' started by Invisible Fan, Feb 27, 2015.

  1. Invisible Fan

    Invisible Fan Contributing Member

    Dec 5, 2001
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    Earl Lloyd, who became the first black player to appear in an N.B.A. game when he took the court for the Washington Capitols in October 1950, three and a half years after Jackie Robinson broke modern major league baseball’s color barrier, died on Thursday in Crossville, Tenn. He was 86.

    His death was announced by West Virginia State University, where he played before joining the N.B.A.

    When Lloyd made his N.B.A. debut, pro basketball was an afterthought on the national sports scene. Lloyd’s milestone appearance received little attention. But Lloyd and three other black players who appeared in N.B.A. lineups soon afterward were nonetheless pioneers, enduring racist jeers from spectators in some cities as well as segregated hotel and restaurant accommodations.

    A rugged 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward, Lloyd played in the N.B.A. for nine seasons. He was a strong rebounder and so tenacious on defense that he sometimes guarded the Minneapolis Lakers’ 6-foot-10 center George Mikan, the league’s first superstar. In 1955, Lloyd joined with Jim Tucker, also a forward, as the first two black players on an N.B.A. championship team, playing for the Syracuse Nationals.

    Lloyd was named the Detroit Pistons’ head coach in 1971, becoming the fourth black head coach in N.B.A. history, after Boston’s Bill Russell, Seattle’s Lenny Wilkens and Golden State’s Al Attles.

    He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 2003 for breaking the N.B.A. racial barrier.

    Lloyd said he never encountered racial animosity from teammates or opposing players, but he remembered taunts from spectators, particularly in St. Louis; Baltimore; Fort Wayne, when the Pistons were based there; and Indianapolis, where the Pistons played their home games in the 1955 N.B.A. finals against Syracuse.

    “Those fans in Indianapolis, they’d yell stuff like, ‘Go back to Africa,’ ” Lloyd told The Syracuse Herald American in 1992. “My philosophy was if they weren’t calling you names, you weren’t doing nothing. If they’re calling you names, you were hurting them.”

    Lloyd recalled how a hotel manager in Baltimore refused to give him a room during a Nationals road trip in the early 1950s and how his coach, Al Cervi, protested loudly to no avail. Lloyd left the hotel to avoid trouble.

    “I owe Earl a lot of thanks,” Cervi, who coached him for four seasons, told Ron Thomas in “They Cleared the Lane: The N.B.A.’s Black Pioneers.”

    “He’s an unsung star. Anybody can score. Lloyd was an excellent defensive player. That was No. 1 on my roster.”

    Earl Francis Lloyd was born on April 3, 1928, in Alexandria, Va., where his father worked in a coal yard and his mother was a domestic worker. After playing at a segregated high school, he starred for historically black West Virginia State.

    When the N.B.A., going into its fifth season, prepared for its April 1950 draft, many club owners continued to resist signing a black player. Apart from the prejudices of the time, some owners feared that Abe Saperstein, the owner of the all-black, crowd-pleasing Harlem Globetrotters, would pull them from appearances in N.B.A. arenas if his roster were raided, depriving the financially hard-pressed league of a gate attraction.

    But everything changed when the Boston Celtics’ owner, Walter Brown, selected Chuck Cooper, a black player from Duquesne, in the second round of the 1950 draft, and Ned Irish, running the Knicks, said he planned to purchase the highly touted Sweetwater Clifton from the Globetrotters. The Washington Capitols followed their leads, picking Lloyd in the ninth round.

    On the evening of Oct. 31, 1950, Lloyd made his debut when the Capitols opened their season against the Rochester Royals at their Edgerton Park Arena. He scored 6 points and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds.

    Cooper, a forward, made his Celtics debut the next night, and Clifton, a forward and center, appeared in his first Knicks game three days after that, both going on to fine careers in the N.B.A.

    A fourth black player, Hank DeZonie, played in five games with the Tri-Cities Blackhawks during the 1950-51 season.

    Lloyd entered the Army after seven games with the Capitols, who went out of business in January 1951. He later played six seasons for Syracuse, complementing the high-scoring Dolph Schayes, then played two seasons for the Pistons. He retired after the 1959-60 season with career averages of 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

    Lloyd became the Pistons’ head coach a few games into the 1971-72 season. They finished last in the Midwest Division, and he was fired after a 2-5 start the next season.

    He later held an executive position with Chrysler, supervised youth leagues for the Detroit police department and counseled students in the city’s school system.

    Lloyd, who had retired to Crossville after living in Detroit, is survived by his wife, Charlita; his sons Kenneth, Kevin and David, and four grandchildren.

    In reflecting on his experience as the N.B.A.’s first black player, Lloyd said he was “in the right place at the right time.”

    “I don’t play it up or down,” he told Ron Thomas. “I just hope I conducted myself where I made it easier for others, and I think I did.”
  2. LosPollosHermanos

    LosPollosHermanos Houston only fan
    Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2009
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    Sad day, but I'm sure he was proud to see how far the league has progressed since his day.

    1 person likes this.
  3. HouStu_Rocket

    HouStu_Rocket Member

    Dec 17, 2013
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    One of the pioneers for the sport I love.

  4. heypartner

    heypartner Contributing Member

    Oct 27, 1999
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    yeah, that was back when NBA stood for "No Blacks Allowed"

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