Earl Lloyd was the first African-American to play in an NBA game in the 1950-51 season. Three others – Hank DeZonie, Sweetwater Clifton, and Chuck Cooper – quickly followed within the week. Born in 1928, Lloyd is the last remaining of those quartet of trail blazers.
In his autobiography, co-written with Sean Kirst, Lloyd recalls his youth in segregated Virginia, his college days in West Virginia, professional career in the NBA, and life afterwards. Reading the stories and seeing how they’re told, Lloyd comes across as a passionate man who aspires for all men to have dignity as they traverse life.
I won’t detail too much of what happens because the book is genuinely worth getting, but this excerpt concerning a racist yard decoration is remarkable and shows Lloyd’s quiet disappointment with his white Syracuse Nationals teammates:
“I had another teammate, I remember we went to a party at his house, and he had a statue of a black jockey on his lawn. I told the guy, ‘That offends me.’ He explained to me how there was nothing wrong with it, and I said to him, ‘As long as you have that out there, I’d prefer you didn’t invite me.’ I asked him if he would ever put a statue out there of a drunken Irishman hanging from a light pole. He couldn’t understand, and I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t understand why I was upset. I said to him, ‘You read. You watch television. You ever just stop and ask yourself why there are no black folks in your neighborhood? You think we all live where we live by choice alone?’ He had no answer for that, but the statue didn’t come down.
“There would be other times in my career when people stood up: Bones McKinney in Washington. Freddy Scolari, who spoke up for me when the Capitols broke up. Dick McGuire in Detroit. You remember those things forever. That’s all I needed in Syracuse, for just one person to say, ‘Earl, this isn’t right.’ But no one ever did. And you realize in the end that you’re alone.”
Reading that passage, I’m personally reminded of the ongoing battle Native Americans are waging against their “mascotization” in society. In any case, story after story is presented in similar, succinct poise – whether joyous or hurt – throughout Earl Lloyd’s biography.
Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Lloyd’s book.
PS – my copy happened to come signed by Lloyd himself, so you never know what surprise might await!