Top Photo: Earl Lloyd–HB, Red Auerbach and Earl–Induction into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2003 with DC legend Dave Bing standing by his side.
Earl Lloyd and teammate Bubba Ellis use to travel across the 14th Street Bridge to play pick-up basket on the playgrounds in NW Washington, DC. Earl and Bubba were both born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia. They were teammates and all-around athletes at all black Parker-Gray high school.
The best basketball was then played on the playgrounds in DC in the late 40s and 50s and Lloyd and his traveling buddy Ellis were both outstanding athletes in the segregated school system in the common wealth of Virginia. The trip across the bridge brought them into another segregated school system in DC, but it was system they were both familiar with.
In the 40s and 50s the segregated high schools in DC were Cardozo, Dunbar, Phelps and Armstrong (Spingarn did not open until 1953). The coaches in both systems developed a bond and brotherhood of survival and had no problem crossing the bridge to play each other. DC black high schools traveled as far as Richmond, Virginia and North Carolina to play each other.
Earl Lloyd and Bubba Ellis were the best of the best athletes to come out of Parker Gray High School. Ellis would make his name as one of the greatest running backs to play in MDV bar none. He attended Howard University before transferring and following Lloyd to West Virginia State where he terrorized the CIAA and Howard University at the annual Capitol Classic football game. The game was played in old Griffin Stadium before sellout crowds.
Black History Month tribute at Bolling AFB in SE DC. L-R Sam Jones (NBA), James Brown (CBS Sports), HB and Earl Lloyd
Earl Lloyd would go on to make his name in basketball at West Virginia State where he would become an All-American. He learned his craft on the playgrounds of DC against some of best playground basketball players to ever come out of the segregated school system. They had names like Tarzan Cooper, Daddy Grace, Elgin Baylor, Dehart Morgan, WW, Lorenzo Hooks, Charlie Jenkins, Reggie Lee, Willie Wood, Willie Jones and many others whose names fail to register with me at this time.
Ellis and Lloyd were both named to the All-South Atlantic Conference and the All-State Virginia Interscholastic Conference all-star teams.
In college at West Virginia State Earl averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds a game. He was nicknamed “Moon Fixer and Big Cat” because of his size. In the 1947-48 season West Virginia was the only undefeated team in the country. As a senior he led West Virginia State to a second place finish in the CIAA Conference Tournament Championship game. He was drafted in the 9th round by the NBA Washington Nationals in 1950, they would eventually become the Syracuse Nationals. NBA Godfather Red Auerbach and wife Dotie visit Inside Sports
Lloyd was one of three black players to enter the NBA at the same time. Lloyd was discharged from the Army one day ahead of Chuck Cooper of the Boston Celtics and Nat ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton, joined the New York Knicks four days later.
On Halloween night October 31, 1950 Earl Lloyd made his NBA debut and scored six points.
He would become a defensive specialist in the NBA and was the team’s ‘Hatchet Man.’ He often led the league and his team in fouls. Earl played in over 560 games in nine seasons. He was only a 6-foot-5, 225-pound forward who averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He played in over 560 games in nine seasons, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound forward averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
In 1953-54 he led the NBA in both personal fouls and disqualifications His best year was 1955, when he averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds for Syracuse. They beat the Fort Wayne Pistons 4-3 for the NBA title. Lloyd and teammate Jim Tucker were the first African-Americans to play on an NBA championship team.
Racism in the NBA was a way of life back there then. He once told me about his mother’s first experience attending one of his game’s in Washington, DC. He tried to warn his family the type of racism they might encounter at the game. His father decided it was best he stay home because he was not going to tolerate that kind of ignorance. But his mother and brother decided to go anyway.
Sure enough sitting a couple rows behind her was a heckler, who kept this barrage of racial insults aimed Earl when he was on the floor. There were words like Coon, and the use of the N word was common. For the sake of clarification in case ESPN’s Michael Wilbon reads this blog, the N word was not being use among family and friends. One time, the heckler said “Get that N out of here he stinks.” This was used so often it made his mom uncomfortable and in the meantime, it pissed her off.
In one series of plays, Earl blocked the opponent’s shot and on the fast break he dunked the ball. There was silence in Uline Arena for a few seconds, where the game was being played in NE DC.
Mrs. Lloyd looked back at the heckler and yelled, “How does he smell now?” You would have actually had a difficult time hearing a mouse piss on cotton if there was one in the arena. The heckler was silent for the rest of the game. Earl’s brother begged his mother not to look back there again. He said, “I was too scared to look back to see whether he had left the arena or what.”
There were several white fans whom came forward after the game to congratulate his mom and thanked her for standing up to the bully. Earl also recalled being refused service multiple times in cities around the league and was even spit on by a fan in Indiana. He said, “I persevered and it only pushed me, these incidents only made me play harder.”
Earl retired in 1961 ranked 43rd in career scoring with 4,682 points.
“In 1950, basketball was like a babe in the woods; it didn’t enjoy the notoriety that baseball enjoyed. Don’t compare me to Jackie Robinson he was in a class by himself. I could not have taken the grief he took that long, and in end have your own people turned against you, he is my hero” he said.
There were many trials and tribulations in his life after his NBA playing career ended. In 1965 Detroit Pistons General Manager Don Wattrick wanted to hire Lloyd as the team’s head coach. It would have made him the first African-American head coach in American pro sports, but he was passed over for Dave DeBusschere who was named Pistons player–coach. Lloyd was the first African-American assistant coach (1968–70) and second African-American head coach (1971–72) with nine games into the 1972-73 season, he was then run out of the job by several of his players (stay tune).
He was treated like a step-child by the CIAA Conference where he was a college All-American and where he led his West Virginia team to an undefeated season. I had to go toe to toe with my college coach the legendary Clarence ‘Bighouse’ Gaines, when I asked to him explain to me, why Earl was not in the CIAA Hall of Fame? This conversation took place at his annual Sunday morning breakfast after Homecoming at his home in 1997.
The debate started when one his former athletes question why he was enshrined into the scared hall. The debate took a turn for the worst when I brought up the name of my friend Earl Lloyd and why he was being overlooked! Bighouse’s response was not adequate when he said, “The selection committee says, he is no longer a CIAA athlete and when West Virginia State left the conference, he became ineligible to be honored in the hall.”
When I told him that was a ridiculous excuse and it sounded like play-hating to me, he gave that funny looking he would give me when I was right, but he would not admit it.
The witnesses at the breakfast table that morning were my roommate Barney Hood, basketball legends Jack Defares, Carl Greene, Earl Monroe and his partner Smitty and several others whose names escapes me. The following year Earl Lloyd was inducted into the CIAA Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.
It is a funny but not laughable thing when it comes to giving each other their just-do (recognition) in our Community; it is more like being caught at the bottom of the ocean floor without oxygen trying to get to the surface for air. Earl experienced the same thing in the NBA, he thought that he was being overlooked and not appreciated for his contributions to the game.
Earl Lloyd felt the NBA was giving him cheap handouts by including him at the camps for the rookies coming into the NBA and other speaking engagements and VIP tickets to NBA functions around the country. He sincerely, thought he belonged in the NBA Hall of Fame at least for his pioneering efforts, and as a member of an NBA Championship team. He didn’t think that Chuck Cooper and Nat Sweetwater Clifton’s efforts and contributions should be overlooked, but he did play in a game first and won a NBA Championship. He also said, “I am not a Spencer Haywood, what they are doing to him is a travesty.” He was right, Spencer Haywood had serious game.
I took his case to my friend and mentor, NBA legend Red Auerbach. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2003 as a contributor.