The basketball player Earl Lloyd was the first African-American in the NBA with the old Washington Capitols in 1950. He later became the league’s first non-playing black head coach.
Lloyd, who was born and grew up in Virginia, was one of three African-Americans to enter the NBA in 1950 (the others were Chuck Cooper of the Boston Celtics and Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton of the New York Knicks). Lloyd was the first of the three to take the court when the Capitols opened the season on 31 October in Rochester, New York, against the Rochester Royals; he scored six points.
His first game did not gain nearly the acclaim that Jackie Robinson’s integration of big-league baseball had three years earlier. “Don’t compare me to Jackie Robinson,” Lloyd said in 2012. “It’s an honour, but I don’t deserve that comparison.”
Lloyd had never sat next to a white person before he was 21, but he was quickly accepted by his white team-mates, many of whom were from northern cities and had played with African-Americans in high school and college. But he was often denied a room in hotels, and faced abuse from spectators. As a lifelong jazz fan he said he found solace on the road in jazz clubs, where race was not an issue. He played only seven games with the Capitols in what was their final season before being called up into the Army. He returned to the NBA in 1952 with the Syracuse Nationals, the franchise that eventually became the Philadelphia 76ers.
Lloyd was never a star, but he was known as a tenacious defender and strong rebounder. He had his finest season in 1954-55, averaging 10.2 points per game for the Nationals, who became NBA champions. He finished playing in 1960 with the Detroit Pistons, and was later the NBA’s first African-American assistant coach, with the Pistons, then worked as a scout and a car industry executive before taking over as Detroit’s head coach in 1971. He was the NBA’s fourth black head coach but the first who was not a player-coach.
Earl Francis Lloyd, basketball player: born Alexandria, Virginia 3 April 1928; married Charlita (three sons); died Crossville, Tennessee 26 February 2015.
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