Earl Lloyd, the first black player to appear in an NBA game, died on Feb. 26. His death was announced by West Virginia State University, where he played basketball before joining the NBA.
Lloyd was a pioneer at the time, when he first took the court for the Washington Capitols in October, 1950. Although never receiving any racial animosity from teammates or opposing players, the 2003 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee endured taunts and hate from opposing team spectators.
“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 was not just a man who broke a color barrier — he was a great player, too. At 6-feet-6, 220 pounds, Lloyd was known for his rebounding ability but more so for his tenacious defense. “He’s an unsung star. Anybody can score. Lloyd was an excellent defensive player. That was No. 1 on my roster,” said Al Cervi, who coached him for four seasons. Lloyd, alongside teammate Jim Tucker, eventually became the first two black players to win an NBA championship when the Syracuse Nationals won in 1955.
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Many people have expressed their condolences to Lloyd’s family and thanked him for his historic contribution that opened the door for so many of today's players.
"The State family mourns the loss of a fellow Yellow Jacket and trailblazer who was a true champion both on and off of the basketball court," West Virginia State President Brian Hemphill said in a statement. "When Earl stepped out on the court on that fateful date in 1950, this remarkable man rightfully earned his place in the historic civil rights movement and, more important, he opened the door to equality in America."
Vince Carter, veteran guard-forward for the Memphis Grizzlies offered his thanks via Twitter. “RIP to Mr. Earl Lloyd you opened that ever so important door for all African American athletes. Thank You!!!! (Prayers) up to your family.”
"The NBA family has lost one of its patriarchs," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "Earl Lloyd, the first African-American to play in an NBA game, was as inspirational as he was understated. He was known as a modest gentleman who played the game with skill, class, and pride."
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"His legacy survives in the league he helped integrate, and the entire NBA family will strive to always honor his memory. Our deepest condolences to the Lloyd family."
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons