Earl Francis Lloyd was an American professional basketball player. He was the first black person to play in the National Basketball Association, in the 1950–51 NBA season. Three other African Americans played in the same season: Chuck Cooper, Nathaniel Clifton, and Hank DeZonie.
Lloyd played collegiately at West Virginia State College, and was selected in the ninth-round of the 1950 NBA draft by the Washington Capitols. On October 31, 1950, Lloyd became the first African American to play in an NBA game, against the Rochester Royals.
Nicknamed “The Big Cat”, Lloyd was one of three black players to enter the NBA at the same time. It was only because of the order in which the teams’ season openers fell that Lloyd was the first to actually play in a game in the NBA scoring six points that Halloween night. The date was October 31, 1950, one day ahead of Cooper of the Boston Celtics and four days before Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton of the New York Knicks. Lloyd played in over 560 games in nine seasons, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound forward averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Lloyd played in only seven games for the Washington Capitols before the team folded on January 9, 1951. He was then drafted into the U.S. Army at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, before the Syracuse Nationals picked him up on waivers. Lloyd served time fighting in the Korean War before coming back to basketball. He then spent six seasons with Syracuse and two with the Detroit Pistons before retiring in 1961.
Lloyd wasn’t impervious to racism while in the NBA. He recalls being refused service multiple times and was even spit on by a fan in Indiana. Lloyd persevered and said that these instances only pushed him and made him play harder.
Lloyd retired ranked 43rd in career scoring with 4,682 points. In the 1953–54 season, Lloyd led the NBA in both personal fouls and disqualifications. His best year was 1955, when he averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds for Syracuse, which beat the Fort Wayne Pistons 4-3 for the NBA title. Lloyd and Jim Tucker were the first African-Americans to play on an NBA championship team.
Lloyd once said; “In 1950, basketball was like a babe in the woods; it didn’t enjoy the notoriety that baseball enjoyed.” Like Lloyd, Clifton and Cooper had solid but not spectacular careers.
Career highlights and awards
NBA champion (1955)
CIAA “Player of the Decade” for the 1940s
NAIA Silver and Golden Anniversary Teams
Points 4,682 (8.4 ppg)
Rebounds 3,609 (6.4 rpg)
Assists 810 (1.4 apg)