Tuesday, March 3, 2015

J-Speaks: The Passing of the NBA’s version of “Jackie Robinson”

In the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA), there have been a lot of players who were known in their careers for their amazing statistics. Their ability to lead their respective franchise to championships and their ability to change the game by how they displayed their incredible skills. We have also had players, particularly some who helped establish roots of the league when it first began have an impact by just getting drafted and stepping onto the pro hardwood. There was a time when just certain people of color were allowed to even play in the league. That was until 1950 when an Alexandria, VA native stepped into the league and made a dream for those who watched a reality. Last Thursday, this Hall of Famer who became the Jackie Robinson of the NBA said goodbye.
Hall of Fame forward Earl Lloyd Washington Capitols passed away at the age of 86 in Crossville, TN. Lloyd is survived by his wife Charlita. They had three sons and four grandchildren.
“The NBA family has lost one of its patriarchs,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement this past Friday. “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 gentlemen who played the game with skill, class, and pride. His legacy survives in the league he help integrate, and the entire NBA family will strive to always honor his memory. Our deepest condolences to the Lloyd family.”
Born on Apr 3, 1928 in Alexandria, VA Lloyd basketball journey played collegiately at West Virginia State College Yellow Jackets, a Division II school from 1946-1950. Lloyd made his name on the team at the defensive end and helped guide his team to two Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Conference and Tournament titles in 1948 and 1949. He was named to three All-Conference teams (1948-50) and was named two-time All-American.
In his senior season, Lloyd averaged 14 points and eight rebounds per contest and led West Virginia State to a second place finish in the CIAA Conference and Tournament Championship. Lloyd’s amazing college career led him to be named the CIAA “Player of the Decade” for the 1940s.
“The State mourns the loss of a fellow Yellow Jacket and trailblazer who was a true champion both on and off the basketball court,” West Virginia president Brian Hemphill said in a statement last week. “When Earl stepped on the court on that fateful date of 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.”
He was the 100th overall selection in the ninth round of the 1950 NBA draft by the Washington Capitols.
Lloyd made his NBA debut on Halloween in 1950 becoming the first African-American to play in the NBA.
As mentioned earlier, this was a dream to most people because this was a time of segregation. When African-Americans were seen a less than their Caucasian counterparts. Everything was segregated from where you eat or get a drink of water from the water fountain. Just looking at a Caucasian person was considered suicide.
Just stepping onto a professional basketball court, the National Basketball Players Association in an ESPN.com article called Lloyd, “a leader, a pioneer, a solider.”
“To be honest, it was sort of uneventful. Plus, in the winter time in Rochester [NY] it’s too cold to hate anybody,” Lloyd said in an interview back in 1995. “Most of the problem I had were with fans. You’re going to fall to pieces because somebody call you a name. You got to be bigger than that.”
Lloyd was bigger than that and in his career he time and time again used a set back and used it a fuel to prepare for the next opportunity.
After playing just seven games for the Capitols before the team folded on Jan. 9, 1951, Lloyd went into the U.S. Army where he was stationed at Fort Sill in Lawton, OK.
He was later picked up by the Syracuse Nationals of waivers, where he would spend the next six seasons before moving on to the Detroit Pistons before retiring in 1960.
Lloyd’s best season came in 1954-55 season where he averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game for the Nats, who defeated the then Fort Wayne Pistons in seven games to capture the championship. Lloyd and teammate Jim Tucker became the first African-American teammates to play on an NBA team that won a title.
“They can’t take it away from you. You can slice that pie anyway you want. There is only one team to win the championship in 1954-55,” Lloyd said of the Nats accomplishment in 2014. “It’s just nice to know that whole year that you did a lot of things right.”
When Lloyd retired, he went on to become a scout, which he was for five seasons and eventually a head coach with the Pistons. He coached the last 70 games of the 1971-72 season and the first seven games of the 1972-73 season going 22-55 in that span.
Back in 1965 according to then sportswriter Jerry Green of the Detroit News, Pistons’ General Manager Don Wattrick wanted to hire Lloyd as the team’s head coach, which would have made him the first African-American head coach in the history of North American pro sports. The team instead named two-time champion with the New York Knicks and Hall of Famer Dave DeBusschere as their player-coach.
In the years that followed, Lloyd received many honors and awards for his trail blazing career. In 1993, he was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. Ten years later, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor.
Lloyd was also selected to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Silver and Golden Anniversary Teams.
On Dec. 1, 2007, a newly constructed basketball court at T.C. Williams High School, which was the subject of the 2000 film “Remember the Titans,” A Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films production starring Denzel Washington, Nicole Ari Parker and Donald Faison in Lloyd’s home town of Alexandria, VA was named in his honor.
Lloyd attended Parker-Gray High School as Alexandria’s schools were segregated during that time. T.C. Williams, as shown in the aforementioned film desegregated 20 years later.
Five years ago, Lloyd and Syracuse, NY area writer Sean Krist wrote Lloyd’s biography “Moonfixer: The Basketball Journey of Earl Lloyd.”
Earlier this year, Lloyd and fellow Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning were among eight Virginians honored in the Library of Virginia’s “Strong Men & Women in Virginia History.”
Most player that averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in their career would not even come close to even be in the discussion of one day being in the Hall of Fame. In the case of Earl Lloyd, he was a basketball player that was more than just the numbers he put up. He was a basketball player that did not allow his dream to go by the wayside because others thought he did not belong. He had a dream and he worked hard to achieve it and respected it enough to his life on the line to make it a reality.
He brought segregation to the fore front and was a proud example of what change looked like.
Lloyd passed on this amazing knowledge and wisdom to future generations’ right up to his death last week.
“When opportunity comes, snatch it,” Lloyd said to a group of young basketball players once. “At the end of the day, you will be judged on the kind of person that you are.”
Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Lloyd; www.espn.go.com Feb. 27, 2015 article “NBA Pioneer Earl Lloyd Dies at 86;” 2/28/15 3 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime” with Rick Kamla, Steve Smith and Grant Hill; Sporting News “Official NBA Guide 2006-07.”

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