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Earl Lloyd, first black player in the NBA and former Detroit Piston, dead at 86

Earl Lloyd became the first black player in the NBA on October 31, 1950. He broke the NBA color barrier three years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

The Associated Press reports that Lloyd died Thursday at age 86.

Lloyd made his 1950 NBA debut with the Washington Capitols, just before fellow black players Sweetwater Clifton and Chuck Cooper played their first games.

You can watch clips of that game in this video produced by the Golden State Warriors:


The Washington Capitols later folded as an NBA team and Lloyd missed the 1951-52 season while serving in the Army. He later went on to win an NBA championship.

More from the Associated Press:

The 6-foot-5 forward helped the Syracuse Nationals win the 1955 NBA title, joining teammate Jim Tucker as the first black players to play on a championship team. Lloyd forward averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in 560 regular-season games in nine seasons with Washington, Syracuse and Detroit.

Lloyd played for the Detroit Pistons from 1958 to 1960, and he was also the Piston's coach for the 1971-72 season and part of the season in 1973.

Lloyd said he didn't experience racism from players, but did hear a lot from fans. More from the Detroit Free Press:

"Throughout my career, I never experienced one covert racist incident with a teammate or opponent perhaps because the basketball players were college-educated and so many had played with blacks before," Lloyd told the Free Press. Fans were a different story, though, and in cities like St. Louis, Fort Wayne and Baltimore, Lloyd often was prohibited from eating in restaurants or staying at the team's hotels. Lloyd heard fans screaming racial epithets, and although he never confronted it, the insults weren't ignored. "My folks taught me, 'Never dignify ignorance.' There were some nasty people spilling venom, but that meant I was playing well. It just made me play harder," Lloyd said.

Lloyd was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003. Former Detroit Piston (and later Detroit Mayor), Dave Bing, introduced Lloyd. 

Lloyd thanked all the people who helped him along the way, saying, "you don't come from Alexandria, Virginia to Springfield, Massachusetts [home of the NBA Hall of Fame] without many hands on you."

Watch his speech below:


Mark Brush was Michigan Radio’s Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.