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NBA First Black Player Earl Lloyd Dies at 86

Earl Lloyd, the NBA's first black player dies at age 86 Getty Earl Lloyd, the NBA's first black player dies at age 86

In an Era of Tremendous Social Change, Earl Lloyd Blazed a Trail

The 1950s; it was a decade of war, racial upheaval; and tumultuous change. The 1950s are the years following Jackie Robinson's entry into Major League Baseball, becoming the first black player to do so. It was the time when the U.S. was at war with Korea; when the U.S. decided the case of Brown vs. the Topeka, Kansas Board of Education; and when President Eisenhower had to dispatch the National Guard to escort black children to all-white schools in Arkansas and Louisiana.

It was also when Earl Lloyd became the first black player to appear in a professional basketball game organized by the National Basketball Association; it was October 1950 to be exact and the team was the Washington Capitols. Lloyd and three other black players who appeared in N.B.A. lineups soon afterward were nonetheless pioneers. Lloyd played nine seasons in the NBA with a reputation as a gritty and tireless defender. He also coached the Detroit Pistons in 1971-72.

Lloyd and his black teammates endured the indignities of segregated hotel and restaurant accommodations and racist jeers from spectators in some cities.

"...they'd yell stuff like, 'Go back to Africa,'" states Lloyd in his obituary in the New York Times. "My philosophy was: If they weren't calling you names, you weren't doing nothing. If they're calling you names, you were hurting them."

A rugged 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward, Lloyd played in the N.B.A. for nine seasons. He was a strong rebounder and so tenacious on defense that he sometimes guarded the Minneapolis Lakers' 6-foot-10 center George Mikan, the league's first superstar, states the New York Times. In 1955, Lloyd joined with Jim Tucker, also a forward, as the first two black players on an N.B.A. championship team, playing for the Syracuse Nationals.

Earl Lloyd died on Thursday in Crossville, Tenn. He was 86.