The second round of the NBA playoffs is in full swing. Names like back to back MVP, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Paul Peirce, Dwight Howard, Shaquille O’Neal, just roll off the tongue. But sixty years ago this was not the case at all.
In the land of the free, home of the brave, the National Basketball Association was completely blacked out, one hundred percent devoid of color. But in 1950 three pioneers forever changed the game.
Who was the first “nonwhite” to enter the NBA? The answer is somewhat complicated. Was it Earl Lloyd, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, or Chuck Cooper? Lloyd actually became the first “nonwhite” to play in a game when he took the floor against Rochester Royals in 1950. His team’s season started earlier than the other two. Clifton made history when he signed a contract and made a NBA team in the same year. Then Cooper broke a barrier when he became the first “nonwhite” ever drafted by a NBA team.
Earl Francis Lloyd was born April 3, 1928 in Alexandria Virginia. He played for West Virginia State College at the forward position and became respected as a defensive threat. Lloyd led his team to two CIAA titles in 1948 and 1949. He was dubbed the “Big Cat” as a NBA player.He enjoyed nine seasons, playing in more than 500 games, averaging, 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Born Clifton Nathaniel in Littlerock Arkansas, he was nicknamed “Sweetwater” for his fondness of sugary drinks. After he moved with his family to Chicago Sweetwater became a basketball and baseball standout at Du Sable High, graduating in 1942. He went on to Xavier University in Louisiana but soon joined the front lines of World War ll. Returning from the war he found a spot playing with the New York Rens, an all black team. During the off season he fed his baseball fetish playing in the Negro leagues. His huge hands earned him an invitation to play with the Harlem Globetrotters and by 1950 his talented play led him to become the first “non white” to sign a NBA contract.
Charles Henry Chuck Cooper was born in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in 1926 where is also went on to glory in 1984. He was signed to the Boston Celtics by Red Auerbach, become the first “nonwhite” to be drafted by NBA team. Cooper held down four seasons with Boston before being traded to the Milwaukee Hawks. He ended his tour of duty with the Fort Wayne Pistons. His NBA career spanned over 400 hundred games, he averaged 6.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.79 assists per game.
Not long ago, these three were lone trendsetters. Presently in the NBA, there are times when all ten players on the floor are all “nonwhite”. Thanks to progress and the courage of these men.
By: Bryon Griffin