NBA's First Black Player Paved Way For Others In League

Feb 27, 2015
Originally published on March 2, 2015 10:42 am
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Three-and-a-half years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, there was Earl Lloyd. Lloyd was the first African-American to play in the NBA. He died yesterday at 86. NPR's Nathan Rott has this remembrance.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: A tall, lean forward for the Washington Capitals, Earl Lloyd made his NBA debut and history when he stepped on the court in Rochester, N.Y. on October 31, 1950. He later described the night to the National Visionary Leadership Project, saying he wasn't nervous. There may have been people in the stands and on the court who didn't want him there, but it didn't matter.


EARL LLOYD: When you get right down to it, once you make that team, you a basketball player.

ROTT: His teammates treated him as such, so did his coaches, but that's not to say it was easy. Growing up in Alexandria, Va., Lloyd said he was treated like a fourth-class citizen. As he grew in stature and in skill on the court, people started treating him different, but...


LLOYD: When they're finished reassuring you about your worth and you get on the city bus and see a sign that says for colored, that kind of tatters those edges of them telling you about self-worth.

ROTT: He credited his family, particularly his mom, for giving him the strength of character to combat those doubts. Lloyd went on to play in the NBA for nine seasons, earning a reputation as a defensive specialist and eventually winning a championship for the Syracuse Nationals in 1955. He later became the first African-American assistant coach in the league and coached the Detroit Pistons for a year. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2003. NBA players and sportscasters took to Twitter to praise Lloyd after the new of his death. Magic Johnson wrote, every African-American that's ever played in the NBA owes a debt of gratitude to Earl Lloyd for opening the door for us all. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.