“Big Cat:” A Basketball Pioneer

On October 31, 1950, Earl Lloyd became the first African American to play in an NBA game. Three years after Jackie Robinson’s debut as part of the MLB, Lloyd took the court as a player for the Washington Capitols, scoring six points and pulling down 10 rebounds. A legendary defensive player, Lloyd did more than just play a good game. He helped to pave the way for players of color who entered the league after him.

Earl Lloyd was born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1928. There, he was a stand-out high school basketball player. He went on to play for West Virginia State University. Immediately following his graduation in 1950, Lloyd was the second African American drafted into the NBA, chosen in the ninth round by the Washington Capitols. He played for the first time on October 31, 1950 in a game against the Rochester Royals. Lloyd was the first of the three African American players drafted that year, including Chuck Cooper and Nat Clifton, to play. He was also the first African American to win an NBA title in 1955.

Following his years playing basketball, which were fraught with discrimination and vitriol by fans, hotels, and restaurants as the team traveled, Lloyd became the first African-American assistant coach in the league for the Detroit Pistons. He became the head coach three years later. Lloyd said of his time in the NBA that he was “in the right place at the right time. I don’t play it up or down. I just hope I conducted myself where I made it easier for others, and I think I did.”

Learn more here:

  1. https://www.wvstateu.edu/about/history-and-traditions/earl-lloyd.aspx
  2. https://www.nba.com/news/history-top-moments-earl-lloyd-chuck-cooper-nat-clifton-new-path-nba
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/28/sports/basketball/earl-lloyd-nbas-first-black-player-dies-at-86.html

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