Saturday, December 27, 2014

Earl Lloyd made history as NBA's first black player

Earl Lloyd of the Nationals was one of three black players chosen in the 1950 draft. (AP file photo)
Earl Lloyd of the Nationals was one of three black players chosen in the 1950 draft. (AP file photo)

WHEN YOU THINK of some of the greats to play professional basketball, names such as Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson probably are the first that come to mind. While these legendary players were some of the best ever to play the game, their careers were made possible only because of another great, Earl Lloyd.

On Oct. 31, 1950, Lloyd, then 21, became the first African-American to play in an NBA game, for the Washington Capitols. Only 3 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, Lloyd, taken in the ninth round, was one of three black players selected in the 1950 NBA draft, but the first to make his debut in the NBA.

Once he joined the Capitols, Lloyd recalled being intimidated by the all-white team, but said he encountered virtually no racist treatment from his teammates and opponents during his 9-year career. After serving in the military during the 1951-52 season, Lloyd returned to the United States from Korea to play for the Syracuse Nationals (who became the 76ers in 1963).

Although Lloyd recalled most of his teammates being immediately welcoming, some fans at home and on the road were not.

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  • "My philosophy was if they weren't calling you names, you weren't doing anything," Lloyd told "You made sure they were calling you names, if you could. If they were calling you names, you were hurting them."

    After 6 years with Syracuse, the power forward spent his final two seasons with the Detroit Pistons. Lloyd finished his career with 1,766 points and 810 assists, and was part of an NBA championship team with the Nationals in 1954-55.

    In 1960, Lloyd retired from basketball at a time when black players were becoming more common. In 2003, Lloyd was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a contributor, 53 years after changing the game forever.

    Today, Lloyd, 86, is credited with being a pioneer for black players in the NBA. In 2013, 76.3 percent of all NBA players were black and 81 percent of the league's players were of color.

    - John Murrow

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