Nobody ever seems to remember second place or the second person to do something. This has been Earl Lloyd’s dilemma during the balance of his long and historic life.
To make my point: quickly, name the second person to integrate Major League Baseball (Larry Doby, Cleveland Indians, 1947, just weeks after Jackie Robinson went to the Brooklyn Dodgers).
There was no movie made about Lloyd, no team retiring his jersey, no documentaries honoring him, no one commentating on how he changed the face of a sport. There were no visits to the White House, no parades in his hometown, no TV specials. The decades after he retired from the NBA, Lloyd live in anonymity and undeserved obscurity.
When Lloyd integrated the National Basketball Association in 1950, the world had already vibrated as the news that Jackie Robinson integrated a major American sport flashed across the nation three years earlier. By the time Lloyd became the second player to integrate the second most popular sport, the aftershocks were mere tremors.
Despite the fact that he opened the doors to future generation of black basketball superstars — heck, black basketball stars dominate the game today — and won an NBA championship with the Syracuse Nationals in 1955, joining teammate Jim Tucker as the first black players to play on a title team, very few Americans outside the sport even knew he existed or remembered him.
The fact that he was not a superstar who awed audiences with eye-popping, all-around numbers contributed to this. Both Robinson and Larry Doby were arguably the best at their positions in baseball, while the 6-foot-5 forward averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in 560 regular-season games in nine seasons with Washington, Syracuse and Detroit. Lloyd was eventually inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003, but only as a contributor, and Lloyd was 22-55 as Detroit’s coach in 1971-72 and the first nine games in the 1972-73 season.
So, while he was a good player, he never set the world aflame with his play and was underwhelming as a coach.
Lloyd made his NBA debut in 1950 for the Washington Capitals, just before fellow black players Sweetwater Clifton and Chuck Cooper played their first games.
He is remembered by contemporaries and historians as a major contributor to the civil rights movement that was burgeoning beneath the surface of American culture at that time, a quiet giant who moved with grace and did not bust down doors with bombastic words.
”The State family mourns the loss of a fellow Yellow Jacket and trailblazer who was a true champion both on and off of the basketball court,” West Virginia State President Brian Hemphill said in a statement. ”When Earl stepped out on the court on that fateful date in 1950, this remarkable man rightfully earned his place in the historic civil rights movement and, more important, he opened the door to equality in America.”
Lloyd, a native of Alexandria, Virginia, lived in Crossville, Tennessee.