On This Date in Sports: October 31, 1950: Breaking Barriers

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Earl Lloyd makes his NBA debut with the Washington Capitols, becoming the first black player in the NBA. Lloyd scores six points, as the Capitols suffer a 78-70 against the Rochester Royals. The game at Edgerton Park Arena in Rochester. Lloyd, the 100th overall pick in the NBA Draft was one of three African Americans that started the season in the newly integrated NBA. Chuck Cooper made his debut with the Boston Celtics one night later, while Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton made his debut with the New York Knicks four days later.

The NBA was still in its infancy in 1950. It was the second year after the merger between the BAA and the NBL formed the National Basketball Association. It was at this time the league decided to integrate. There were three African Americans drafted in 1950. Chuck Cooper of Duquesne was picked #14 overall by the Boston Celtics, in the second round. While the Washington Capitols selected Earl Lloyd from West Virginia State in the ninth round and Harold Hunter out of North Carolina College. Hunter was the first to sign an NBA contract but failed to make the team out of training camp. Hunter never played in the NBA. He would later become a coach at Tennessee State. 

The second African-American to sign an NBA contract was Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, who signed with the New York Knicks after spending three years with the Harlem Globetrotters. Clifton was born in Little Rock, Arkansas on October 13, 1922. Raised in Chicago, Clifton played his college ball at Xavier in Louisiana. He earned the nickname Sweetwater due to his love for soda. After serving in the Army, Nat Clifton played for the New York Rens, a barnstorming team that was like the Globetrotters. After two seasons he moved on to the Globetrotters in 1947. In his first NBA game on November 4th, Nat Clifton scored 16 points as the Knicks lost to the Tri-Cities Blackhawks on the road 87-76. Clifton spent eight seasons in the NBA, averaging 10 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He spent his final season with the Detroit Pistons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.

Chuck Cooper the first African-American to be drafted by an NBA team. He was born on September 29, 1926, in Pittsburgh. After serving in the Navy, attended Duquesne in Pittsburgh. Cooper struggled in his NBA debut missing all five shots he took as the Boston Celtics suffered a 79-65 loss to the Tri-Cities Blackhawks on November 1st. Chuck Cooper averaged, 6.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. He spent six seasons in the NBA later playing with the Milwaukee Hawks, St. Louis Hawks, and the Fort Wayne Pistons. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019. 

Earl Lloyd who made his debut first, was on April 3, 1928, in Alexandria, Virginia. Lloyd spent a decade in the NBA playing for the Washington Capitols, Syracuse Nationals, and Detroit Pistons. He averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. After his career ended, Earl Lloyd worked as a scout for the Pistons and spend a season as a coach with the team in 1972. Lloyd was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.

Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, and Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton were joined later in the season by Hank DeZonie, who appeared in just five games for Tri-Cities Blackhawks. In that brief career, DeZonie averaged 3.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.  While DeZonie is largely forgotten, Lloyd, Cooper, and Clifton are all members of the Basketball Hall of Fame.