NBA: Black Lives Matter – Part 1

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by Henry L. Liao

Earl Lloyd: The first African-American to play in the NBA
Earl Lloyd: The first African-American to play in the NBA

Once a lily-white American pro basketball league, the National Basketball Association is now dominated by African-Americans.

The NBA, in fact, owns the highest percentage of black players in any of the four major pro team sports leagues (major-league baseball, National Football League, National Hockey League and the NBA) in the United States and Canada.

More than 74 percent of the NBA players in the current 2021-22 season are African-Americans and around 77 percent of them are people of color (Latino and Asian players).

Jim Tucker
Jim Tucker

The first African-American ever to suit up in an official NBA game was Earl Francis Lloyd.

Born in Alexandria, Virginia, the 6-5 product of West Virginia State College made history after donning the Washington Capitols uniform in a game against the host Rochester (New York) Royals (the predecessors of the Sacramento Kings via the Cincinnati Royals) on October 31, 1950.

Nicknamed “The Big Cat,” Lloyd scored six points and hauled down a game-high 10 rebounds in a losing effort as the Royals claimed a 78-70 victory over the Capitols.

During the 1950-51 campaign when he averaged 6.1 points, Lloyd appeared in just seven games due to his being drafted into the U. S. Army at Fort Still, Oklahoma for a two-year stint.

Moreover, the Capitols disbanded on January 9, 1951, after playing only 35 games (10W-25L).

Known for his, defense, Lloyd rejoined the NBA in 1952-53 with the Syracuse Nationals (the forerunners of the Philadelphia 76ers).

Earl Lloyd (in white jersey) goes for a rebound.
Earl Lloyd (in white jersey) goes for a rebound.

Lloyd and Jim Tucker became the first African-Americans to capture an NBA championship when the duo helped guide the Nats to the league title in 1954-55. That season, Lloyd registered averages of a career-high 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds in 72 appearances with the Nats, who defeated the Fort Wayne Pistons (the harbinger of the Detroit Pistons), 4-3, in the NBA Finals.

Overall, Lloyd played nine seasons in the NBA, norming 8.4 points in 560 regular games with Washington, Syracuse and Detroit. He hung up his jersey in 1960.

Earl Lloyd suited up for the Washington Capitols on October 31, 1950 to become the first Black ever in the NBA.
Earl Lloyd suited up for the Washington Capitols on October 31, 1950 to become the first Black ever in the NBA.

Lloyd went into coaching thereafter. According to Detroit News sportswriter Jerry Green, Detroit Pistons manager Don Wattrick wanted to hire Lloyd as the club’s head coach in 1965.

It would have made Lloyd the first African-American head coach in U. S. pro team sports history. Instead the job went to player Dave DeBusschere in a concurrent capacity – making him the youngest head coach in NBA history at age 24.

Lloyd eventually coached the Pistons early into the 1971-72 season following the dismissal of Butch van Breda Kolff and his replacement Terry Dischinger on an interim basis. He went 20W-50L in the final 70 games.

Lloyd was sacked seven games (2-5) into the following campaign and was replaced by Ray Scott. Lloyd later became a scout for the Pistons for five seasons.

Lloyd, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003 under the “contributor” category, died on February 26, 2015 at age 86.

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