He made history 72 years ago today!
Earl Francis Lloyd was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Born April 3, 1928 in Alexandria, Virginia, Lloyd made a name for himself as a standout athlete in high school. He earned the nickname “The Big Cat,” towering 6 ft 6 inches by the time he was in high school before making history as the first African-American to suit up for the league. He earned championships, had a long and illustrious career in the NBA, and received numerous honors and accolades before his death on February 26, 2015 at the age of 86. In honor of this pioneering figure on the anniversary of his historic first game, here are 6 things you should know about the first Black man to play in the NBA:
He played college basketball at West Virginia State.
Lloyd played at Parker-Gray High School before enrolling in college at West Virginia State in 1947, WVState.edu reports. There, Lloyd helped lead the Yellow Jackets to two CIAA championships in 1948 and 1949. He was named All-Conference three years in a row from 1949 to 1950 and named All-American in 1949 and 1950 by the Pittsburgh Courier.
Earl Lloyd was the second player to be drafted to the NBA.
Lloyd made history as the second Black player to be drafted by the NBA, Britannica reports. Chuck Cooper was chosen by the Boston Celtics just a few picks before Lloyd got drafted to the Washington Capitols, and Nate “Sweetwater” Clifton would actually make history as the first Black person to sign an NBA contract with the New York Knicks. The NBA schedule was responsible for Lloyd making history as the first African-American player to take the court in an NBA game on October 31, 1950. In that first game, he scored six points against the Rochester Royals.
He was an army veteran.
Lloyd played in only seven games before he was drafted to the U.S. Army at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Military Wiki reports. During that time, the Capitols folded, and the Syracuse Nationals picked up Lloyd’s contract. Lloyd served the U.S. Army fighting in the Korean War before returning back to the NBA to play basketball.
Lloyd made history as the first Black player to win an NBA championship.
Earl Lloyd played for the Syracuse Nationals (now known as the Philadelphia 76ers) from 1952-1958, leading the team to a championship victory in 1955 and making history as the first Black player to do so. In his 1954-1955 season, he scored 731 points with an average of 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds a game.
He also made history as a coach.
Lloyd finished out his playing days with the Detroit Pistons until his retirement in 1960 at the age of 32. Afterward, he transitioned into the world of coaching, making history as the first Black assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons from 1968-1970. He would later make history as the second-ever African-American head coach in the league. He also worked with the Pistons as a scout, recruiting players like Willis Reed, Earl Monroe, Dave Bing, Ray Scott, and Wally Jones.
Earl Lloyd is a Hall of Famer.
In 2003, Lloyd was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He also has been inducted into the West Virginia State Hall of Fame, the state of West Virginia Athletic Hall of Fame, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame, the Black College Alumni Hall of Fame, and the Parker-Gray High School Hall of Fame. He was named one of the CIAA’s 50 Greatest Players. In 2001, the Congressional Black Caucus honored him with the “Legends of Black History” Sports Award and in 2008, he was honored by the U.S. House of Representatives with a Congressional Resolution. The basketball court at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA is also named in his honor and a documentary about Lloyd’s life is entitled “The First To Do It.”
Thank you for everything Mr. Lloyd! Because of you, we can!
6 things you should know about the first Black man to play in the NBA. Photo Courtesy of NBAE/Getty Images