Signed Basketball Case Reminds us of a Forgotten Trailblazer
We received pictures of a basketball signed by Earl Lloyd In one of our basketball display cases and saw it as an opportunity to write an article about a man who most doesn't remember, but many call "The Jackie Robinson of Basketball." Earl Lloyd was a trailblazing pioneer who became the first African American man to play in the NBA.
Earl was born in Alexandria, Virginia, to a father that worked in the coal mines, and a stay at home mom. He had a very promising high school career, playing at the segregated Parker-Grey Highschool. As a freshman he earned the nickname "Moonfixer" due to his height, (sources vary from 6'3" all the way up to 6'8") Earl was named to the All-South Atlantic conference three times, and to the All state Virginia interscholastic conference twice.
Upon graduating from high school he received a scholarship to play basketball at West Virginia State University. He led the team to two CIAA conferences and two tournament championships. In the 1947-48 season, West Virginia State was the only team in the country with an undefeated season.
On April 25th, 1950, Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, and Nat Clifton became the first three African American players to be drafted into the NBA. Nat Clifton was picked first for the New York Knicks, Chuck was then picked for Boston Celtics, and Earl was chosen in round 9, the hundredth pick of the night, to join the Washington Capitols.
It was only due to scheduling that of these three, Lloyd was the first black man to play in the NBA on Halloween night, 1950. Cooper first stepped on to the court the next day, and Nat got his first turn four days later on November 4th.
Lloyd only got to play seven games with the Capitols before he was drafted into the US army to serve at Fort Still in Oklahoma. The Capitols didn't last long without him though, as they folded 18 games later, coming to a close with a 10-25 record. Lloyd would spend the remainder of the season, and the next, serving in the Korean war, before being honorably discharged and coming back to the States to be picked up by the Syracuse Nationals.
Lloyd spent six seasons with the Nationals, and while he received very little disrespect from his teammates and coaching staff, many basketball fans did not take kindly to him playing with white players, and would make their stance known. Maybe Lloyd started to show cracks from this abuse during the 53-54 season, as he led the league in fouls and disqualifications, but the following season he buckled down and put up huge numbers, with Earl averaging 10.2 points a game, leading to their championship win in game seven over the Fort Wayne Pistons, on April 10th. That night, Lloyd earned another first when he and his teammate Jim Tucker became the first black men to play on a championship winning team. Lloyd spent a total of six seasons with the Nationals before transferring to the Detroit Pistons for two years, and then retiring.
Lloyd pursued a humble coaching career after retiring as a player. In 1965 it was rumored that the Detroit Pistons general manager wanted to hire Lloyd as the head coach, but he was overruled and the team instead opted for Dave Debuscherre. Lloyd was chosen as assistant head coach for the pistons 3 years later, making him the first black assistant head coach in the NBA. He worked as the assistant until he was made the head coach of the Pistons for the 1971-72 season,. Unfortunately, after starting the 72-73 season with a 2-5 record, Lloyd was fired. His overall coaching record was 22-55. This wouldn't stop him from working around the sport he loved though, as he continued his Piston's career for a few years as a scout.
Once he was finally ready to put basketball behind him, Lloyd must have had formed an attachment to the Detroit area, because he worked as job placement administrator for the Detroit public school system, and later as a community relations director with a Detroit manufacturing company. In 1999 he retired and moved to Tennessee with his wife. Even though he was done with basketball, basketball still had a few things to give him in his old age.
Earl was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame for his impressive basketball career, and his even more impressive ability to trailblaze new paths through the sport of basketball. Soon afterwards, a sports biographer named Sean Peter Kirst got together with Earl and started to write a book about his life and career. The book would of course be called "Moonfixer, The Basketball Journey of Earl Lloyd," and I highly it recommend to anyone who wants to read more about him. Lloyd would enjoy several events celebrating his accomplishments, including inductions into several smaller halls of fame, and a meeting with vice-president at the time, Joe Biden.
Earl passed away in Crossville, Tennessee just three years ago in 2015, leaving behind a legacy of being a tough as nails, defensive basketball player, and a tough as nails, driven human being. I was very impressed reading about this man who, led such a tough life on and off the course, and it really did inspire some belief in myself. I hope reading this article does the same thing for all of you.
If you have your own basketball that you want to protect and display, you can find the case that this signed ball sits in right here. If you have anything else that you need a case for, you can start browsing all of our cases on our website. We are always looking for more stories to tell here in our blogs, or on our Facebook, so if you have one of our cases, please let us know what you are using it for, and you and your memorabilia might end up in one of our spotlights! Thank you so much for reading! Hope we get to here from you soon!