64 Years Later: Earl Lloyd, our Jackie Robinson

October 31, 2014

For many, Halloween signifies costumes, candy, ghosts, and ghouls. For the history of the National Basketball Association, Halloween always signifies Earl Lloyd breaking the professional basketball color barrier.

Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 has been retired for all thirty Major League Baseball teams. His story has been retold in numerous books and, recently, a major motion picture.

But who is Earl Lloyd?

Born in Alexandria, Virignia in the late 1920s, Lloyd attended West Virginia State and led the Yellow Jackets to two CIAA conference and tournament championships in 1948 and 1949. In the 1950 NBA Draft, Lloyd was drafted in the 9th Round by the Washington Capitals and went to camp determined to make the squad, with a vision of equality seeping into the game of basketball.

“Training camp with the Washington Capitals was the first time in my life the playing field was truly level,” Lloyd said. “I felt like I was a giant Tasmanian devil. I was driven.”

That drive ultimately led him to history, and on October 31, 1950, Earl Lloyd became the first African-American to play in an NBA game. Here's the box score from that game, with Lloyd scoring 2 field goals and going 2-3 from the free throw line for a total of 6 points:

 

Lloyd is humbled when speaking about his impact and quick to point out the others who accomplished this same difficult objective during that 1950 season.

“I entered the league with two great guys (Chuck Cooper and Nat ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton) and we felt the racial climate in 1950.

64 years later, Lloyd still understands his impact.

“If you were a black baby born in segregated Virginia in 1928, your prospects were slim and none – I call it an incredible journey,” he said. “To me, it was just a basketball game. Now, as years wear on, things crystallize as you climb that chronological ladder.

When you visit Lloyd’s Basketball Reference page, you’ll find a rarity in today’s game: 1951-1952 Did Not Play (military service – U.S. Army). After playing seven games for Washington, Lloyd was drafted to the Army.

Come 1952, Lloyd was back in the NBA with the Syracuse Nationals, a team that became today’s Philadelphia 76ers. He became one of the first two African-American players to win an NBA Championship with teammate Jim Tucker, as the Nationals won it all in 1955.

So what does Lloyd say when asked about being compared to his baseball equivalent?

“People try to compare me with Jackie Robinson, but I don’t know about that,” Lloyd said. “He was one of my heroes.”

Many say the same thing today about Earl Lloyd. Today, the 64th anniversary of his entry into an NBA game as the league’s first African-American player, is a day of celebration that goes well beyond tricks or treats.