Friday, February 10, 2012

In honor of Black History month we bring you: EARL LLOYD


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  Earl Lloyd, now 81 years old, lives in Detroit with his wife, Charlita. He remains proud of his role in history, and he should be. On that historic night in 1950, Lloyd opened a door that thousands of others have walked through.
"I don't think my situation was anything like Jackie Robinson's -- a guy who played in a very hostile environment, where even some of his own teammates didn't want him around," said Lloyd. "In basketball, folks were used to seeing integrated teams at the college level. There was a different mentality. But of course, the team did stay and eat in some places where I wasn't welcome.
"I remember in Fort Wayne, Indiana, we stayed at a hotel where they let me sleep, but they wouldn't let me eat. They didn't want anyone to see me. Heck, I figured if they let me sleep there, I was at least halfway home. You have to remember, I grew up in segregated Virginia, so I had seen this stuff before. Did it make me bitter? No. If you let yourself become bitter, it will eat away at you inside. If adversity doesn't kill you, it makes you a better person."
Earl Lloyd is not a household name like Jackie Robinson, who broke major league baseball's color barrier in 1947. There are several reasons for that. With Lloyd, Clifton, and Cooper all joining the NBA during the same season, none of them had to carry the burden alone the way Robinson did. In fact, Cooper made his debut with the Boston Celtics just one day after Lloyd played his first game with Washington. And with Robinson already playing baseball, the debut of African-Americans in the NBA was not met with the same level of tension.
But Lloyd had many uncomfortable moments. After a game in Fort Wayne, Lloyd and one of his teammates, John "Red" Kerr, were walking off the floor together after a victory.
"We were celebrating the win, I had my arm around Earl, and some fans just spit on us," said Kerr, a former great player who now broadcasts Chicago Bulls games. "It wasn't because we had won the game. They were spitting at Earl."
On another occasion, a diner refused service to Lloyd, so he returned to his hotel room to eat. Horace "Bones" McKinney was Washington's coach at the time. In a show of support, McKinney went to Lloyd's room and joined him for dinner. Gestures like that helped Lloyd keep going.
"Bones was from Wake Forest, N.C., the Deep South, and he had been raised in the South during the '30s and '40s," said Lloyd. "You know he didn't have to do that. Things like that you don't forget."
Nicknamed "Big Cat," Lloyd was drafted in the ninth round by the Capitols after a successful career at West Virginia State College. A 6-6 forward known for his defense, he often guarded the other team's best offensive player. The Washington franchise folded during Lloyd's first year, but he joined the Syracuse Nationals the next season. During the 1954-55 season, Lloyd average 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds, helping the Nationals win the NBA title. Lloyd retired in 1960 at the age of 32, ending his career with the Detroit Pistons, and finishing with career averages of 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds.
After spending the next 10 years as a scout and assistant coach, Lloyd became the first African-American coach of the Pistons during the 1971-72 season, after Butch van Breda Kolff resigned. But the Pistons were just 20-52 the rest of the season, and Lloyd was fired just seven games into the next season.
"Coaching is only fun if you win," said Lloyd, laughing. "I didn't win. It wasn't fun."
But Lloyd found success elsewhere. He spent more than 10 years, working for the Detroit Board of Education, and he currently works in the community relations department of Dave Bing, Inc.
Lloyd is so modest that many of his friends don't know about his place in history.
"When you're 70 years old, if you start telling people that you were the first black man to play in the NBA, people look at you like you're crazy," said Lloyd. "Besides, I've never been one to blow my own horn."
However, Lloyd was the answer to a trivia question on the television show, Jeopardy!, a few years ago, and his telephone started ringing. Friends were shocked and surprised. Lloyd just sat back and laughed.
Still in good health, Lloyd was enshrined in the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. [In 2003, Earl F. Lloyd was inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor.] He follows the NBA by watching games from his home, knowing that he played a role in helping make the league what it is today.
"Earl was a great teammate," said Kerr. "He's also a great guy and a hero."

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