Skip Navigation

Sign In or Register


SharePrint Earl Lloyd


Earl Francis Lloyd, a graduate of West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University), was the first African-American basketball player to play in a National Basketball Association (NBA) game.

The historic NBA game was played on Halloween night, Oct. 31, 1950. The contest pitted Lloyd’s Washington Capitols team against the Rochester Royals. In that game, Lloyd scored six points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but it was his mere presence on the court that helped blaze a trail for future African-American players in the NBA.

Standing 6-feet-8 inches tall and weighing 225 pounds, Lloyd was nicknamed the “Big Cat.” He was born on April 3, 1928, in Alexandria, Va. Before coming to West Virginia State in 1947, Lloyd was a star player at Parker-Gray High School.

At State, Lloyd led the Yellow Jackets to two Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Conference and Tournament Championships in 1948 and 1949. He was named All-Conference three times (1948–50) and was an All-American twice, as named by the Pittsburgh Courier (1949–50).

After graduating from West Virginia State, Lloyd was selected in the ninth-round of the 1950 NBA draft by the Washington Capitols, becoming one of three African-American players to enter the NBA at the same time.

Since Lloyd’s team’s season opener was first on the schedule, he became the first African-American to actually play in an NBA game. Lloyd played in only seven games for the Washington Capitols before the team disbanded on January 9, 1951. He was then drafted into the Army at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, before the Syracuse Nationals team picked him up on waivers.

While serving in the Army, Lloyd fought in the Korean War. After the war he returned to pro basketball, spending six seasons with Syracuse and two with the Detroit Pistons. With Syracuse, Lloyd and teammate Jim Tucker became the first African-American players to win an NBA championship.

Lloyd experienced racism while in the NBA. He was refused service at hotels and restaurants multiple times and was even spit on by a fan in Indiana. Lloyd said that those racist experiences steeled him to play harder.

Lloyd retired as a player from the NBA in 1961, but he continued with the Pistons as a scout and later became the first African-American assistant coach in the NBA. During his nine-year NBA career, Lloyd played in more than 560 games, averaging 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

According to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, “Lloyd’s ability to conduct himself with grace, style, and professionalism both on and off the court during an era of segregation became the model for others to follow.”

He died February 26, 2015, in Crossville, Tennessee. He was 86.

This Article was written by Ben Calwell

Last Revised on September 16, 2021


"Earl Lloyd, Basketball Trailblazer". West Virginia State University website.

NBA staff. Top Moments: Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Nat Clifton blaze new path in NBA. NBA website.

Cite This Article

Calwell, Ben "Earl Lloyd." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 16 September 2021. Web. 29 May 2024.


There aren't any comments for this article yet.

West Virginia Humanities Council | 1310 Kanawha Blvd E | Charleston, WV 25301 Ph. 304-346-8500 | © 2024 All Rights Reserved

About e-WV | Our Sponsors | Help & Support | Contact Us The essential guide to the Mountain State can be yours today! Click here to order.