Earl Francis Lloyd

Lloyd played in only seven games for the Washington Capitols before he was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1951 during the Korean War.  Lloyd was in the Army for almost two years at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, but Lloyd captured four U.S. Army basketball titles in that time period.  Returning to the NBA in 1952, the Syracuse Nationals, who later became the Philadelphia 76ers, picked Lloyd up from waivers after the Capitols had gone out of business in 1951.  Lloyd and teammate Jim Tucker would later became the first African Americans to win an NBA title in 1955 with Dolph Schayes and the Syracuse Nationals. That year, Lloyd had his best year averaging 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds for Syracuse, beating the Fort Wayne Pistons four games to three in a seven game series for the NBA title against the Rochester Royals.

Lloyd’s journey to get into the pros and while he was in the pros were not as tough and didn’t go through nearly as much as Jackie Robinson, an African American who had broken baseball’s color barrier three years before and had begun the long and difficult undoing of the established racial segregation that took over American life and sports.  Lloyd was also in the benefit of coming into the league after the Civil Rights Movement.  Lloyd had options where he could have played semi-professional basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters, an all-Black basketball team with razzle-dazzle and acrobatic moves.  These actions of taking up semi-pro leagues were very common since African-Americans could not play in the pro leagues.  The Harlem Globetrotters on-court antics pleased basketball audiences of the day. But as Lloyd finished college in 1950, Lloyd’s coach saw changes coming in other sports, and noticed NBA scouts in the stands who were keeping an eye on Lloyd, warned Lloyd to keep his options open.  They wanted Lloyd because of his size.

Lloyd also knew his situation was not like Jackie Robinson’s.  Lloyd stated several times, “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 teammates didn’t want him around.  In basketball, folks were used to seeing integrated teams at the college level. There was a different mentality.”  During its early years, when many college teams were integrated, all-black teams competed regularly against all-white teams.  However, Lloyd did experience his own share of uncomfortable moments with fans and other people.

One uncomfortable moment was after a game in Fort Wayne, Lloyd and one of his teammates, John “Red” Kerr, were walking off the floor together after a victory and some of the fans were spitting on Lloyd.  Most of the mistreatment usually happened at away games especially down South.  In another experience, a diner refused service to Lloyd, so he returned to his hotel room to eat.  Lloyd’s coach, Horace “Bones” McKinney at the time, in a show of support, went to Lloyd’s room and joined him for dinner. Gestures and actions like that helped Lloyd keep going. Lloyd’s words in response to that situation were simple, “If adversity doesn’t kill you, it makes you a better person.”

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Joining an all-white team was intimidating described by Lloyd in many interviews.  Lloyd didn’t have to worry about his teammates since most of them had played on integrated college teams. The people that intimidated him the most were fans. On the first night of the season, the announcer read the Capitols’ lineup and a white man in the front row asked: “Do you think this nigger can play any basketball?” Lloyd’s mother, who was sitting behind the man, leaned forward and told him not to worry: “The nigger,” she said, “can play.”

Lloyd played eight full seasons in the NBA retiring in 1960 at the age of 32, ending his career with the Detriot Pistons.  Lloyd played in over 560 games the 6-foot-5; 225-pound forward averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Lloyd retired ranked 43rd in career scoring with 4,682 points. Lloyd later spent the next 10 years as a scout and assistant coach.  Lloyd then became the first African-American coach of the Pistons during the 1971-72 seasons, after  Butch van Breda Kolff resigned, making him the first non-playing and first African American coach. But the Pistons were just 20-52 the rest of the season, and Lloyd was fired just seven games into the next season. After coaching, Lloyd found success working for the Detroit Board of Education for ten years, and he currently works in the community relations department of Dave Bing, Inc.  Lloyd currently lives in Fairfield Glade, Tennessee, just outside of Crossville, Tennessee, with his wife, Charlita, have three sons and four grandchildren.

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