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The Basketball Journey of Earl Lloyd

Earl Lloyd and Sean Kirst

Publication Year: 2010

In 1950, future Hall of Famer Earl Lloyd became the first African American to play in a National Basketball Association game. A warm and gracious man, widely loved and respected, Lloyd has lived what he describes as an "incredible journey" and has spent eighty years gathering passionate lessons from that experience. He was born in Virginia, a state he describes as "the cradle of segregation," only sixty-two years after the end of the Civil War. Nicknamed "Moonfixer" in college, Lloyd led West Virginia State to two CIAA Conference and Tournament Championships and was named All-American twice. One of three African Americans to enter the NBA at that time, Lloyd played seven games for the Washington Capitals before the team folded. He joined the Syracuse Nationals for six seasons and later played for the Detroit Pistons before he retired in 1961. Throughout his career, he quietly endured the overwhelming slights and exclusions that went with being black in America. Yet he has also lived to see basketball—a demonstration of art, power, and pride—become the black national pastime and to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama. In a series of extraordinary conversations with Sean Kirst, Lloyd reveals his fierce determination to succeed, his frustration with the plight of many young black men, and his sincere desire for the nation to achieve true equality among its citizens.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Photo, Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication, About the Author

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xvi

Earl Lloyd is my close friend today, but I first heard of him when I was a young man. I grew up in Washington, D.C., and he was raised right across the bridge, in Alexandria. As a kid, growing up and watching the NBA, I knew he was the first African American to play in the league. It was obvious, and those of us...

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Preface: Earl Lloyd and Syracuse

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pp. xvii-xxx

You’d have a hard time finding any reminder in Syracuse of what Earl Lloyd accomplished during his time in that Upstate city in New York. No school, street, or playground carries his name, even though Lloyd spent most of his playing career in the National Basketball Association with the old Syracuse Nationals, who later moved to Philadelphia and became the...

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A Note to Readers

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pp. xxxi-xxxiv

In 1991 I became a sports columnist with the Syracuse Post-Standard. The job had its priorities, notably covering Syracuse University football and basketball, but one fringe benefit was a chance to satisfy my curiosity about the old Nationals of the National Basketball Association. I’d grown up in Upstate New York, and I knew some of the history surrounding the...

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pp. xxxv-xxxvii

During my life I have acquired many “families” of friends and supporters. I would like to give thanks to: My Alexandria, Virginia, family, which included my parents and brothers, gave me love, positive values, and support; My Parker-Gray High School family encouraged my intellectual growth and athletic ability; My West Virginia State College family embraced me, educated me,...

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Prologue: Lloyd on Obama, Part One

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pp. 1-6

...I’ve been watching Obama. I wasn’t sure what to think at first. I had to know more. But for this man to survive what he’s survived and still be standing tall, that tells me what I need to know. He’s one tough guy. First there were the Clintons; she was the odds-on favorite to win the election. And then the folks who opposed Obama . . . they “Rev. Wrighted” him like...

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1. Jackie

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pp. 7-12

...I get asked about it everywhere I go. Almost sixty years ago, I walked out onto the basketball court in Rochester for a game I don’t even remember all that well. There are plenty of games that in memory seem much more important, but that is the game that put me down in history: the first black American to play in the National Basketball Association. All these...

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2. Lemonade!

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pp. 13-20

For years, I’ve had a lot of people telling me I need to do a book. My friends and family tell me I need to do it, because of what I’ve done and the things I’ve seen. That’s been cause for a lot of thought, and I want to start this with something that might shock you, something I’ll come back to as we go through this thing. Segregation served me well. And I think there is something there, a...

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3. Bootstraps, Anyone?

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pp. 21-40

I grew up in the cradle of segregation: Alexandria, Virginia. It’s part of a beautiful state, if they decide to let you use it. I just don’t have a lot of fond memories of Virginia, because of the way I was made to feel, but let me try to separate this out: I have nothing but fond memories of childhood, because of the people who surrounded me. Let’s not lie...

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4. A Neighborhood Could Play with One Ball

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pp. 41-46

People talk about basketball now as black America’s game, the black American pastime. You’re asking me if somehow I played a role in making that happen. The strange thing is, like I said before, baseball was probably my favorite game. Everyone in those days played baseball. But basketball gave me the chance, and I took it. This scout for Branch Rickey, Rex...

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5. Cocoon and Butterfly

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pp. 47-58

If you visit my college, West Virginia State, you’ll think it’s just a little place, a quiet place, an out-of-the-way place. But I cannot tell you enough about what that school means to me, or the sense of peace I feel every time I go back. For me, going there, it was like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. It was a fabulous place during dastardly times. When I get asked...

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6. The Beginning

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pp. 59-67

The people who tell me I was first—that’s a nice thing to say, but I always defer. I make a point of reminding them of Chuck Cooper. He was drafted in the second round in 1950. That’s amazing. Without that happening, I cannot conceive of the Washington Capitols picking me seven rounds later. They took me in the ninth round, and trust me, they could have...

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7. Decisions

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pp. 68-73

Whenever I hear criticism of kids leaving high school and going straight to the NBA, it’s almost always from white people, and they’re mad because they see a lot of black kids without degrees making a lot of money. The first thing that pops out of people’s mouths: “Don’t you think they’re overpaid?” They say it like a question, but it’s a statement. But we’ve all been taught the...

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8. Timing

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pp. 74-86

My time in Washington ended when the U.S. Army “deemed me necessary,” and I received my selective service notice. That would take me into my years in Syracuse, although I didn’t know it at the time. I got drafted to go into the army, and I had to leave the team, and I didn’t know what would happen when I came back. While I was in the army, the Caps folded. The...

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9. The Ice Bucket

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pp. 87-95

I spent most of my NBA years in Syracuse. I didn’t have many problems there, but a couple of things happened that stay with me today. Syracuse wasn’t the worst place, and it wasn’t the best place: it was the way most northern cities were at the time. That meant they didn’t put up signs that said “Colored only,” but you still found out real fast where you could and...

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10. Jazz

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pp. 96-100

Here’s one subject that is worth a chapter by itself. It involves one of the great passions in my life. In Syracuse, where I could have felt alone, it’s the medium that drew me and Donald “Peewee” Caldwell and Eugene “Moon” Williams together: jazz. Throughout your life, you hear music and you gravitate to the kind that moves you. A lot of my friends...

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11. Exclamation

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pp. 101-108

I’ve always talked about handprints. Whatever we accomplish, it’s because someone else puts their hands on us positively. It’s been true for me at every important moment in my life. It was true on the day I became a coach. I’d been traded from Syracuse to Detroit in 1958. Enter Dick McGuire. He was a guard, and I played with him on the Pistons for a year. Then...

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Epilogue: Lloyd on Obama, Part Two

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pp. 109-111

...My wife is here crying. We’re both crying. You know what this means? I’ve got grandchildren. For the first time in my life, I can look these kids in the face and tell them they can aspire to be anything they want to be when they grow up. Anything. That’s just amazing. Our president-elect will not be a miracle worker, and he knows he’ll...

Appendix A. Sean Kirst on Earl Lloyd and the Fifteenth Ward: Appendix B. Earl Lloyd’s Career, Playoff, and Coaching

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pp. 113-135


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pp. 137-142

E-ISBN-13: 9780815650782
E-ISBN-10: 0815650787
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815609469
Print-ISBN-10: 0815609469

Page Count: 152
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Detroit Pistons (Basketball team).
  • Syracuse Nationals (Basketball team).
  • Lloyd, Earl, 1928-.
  • African American basketball players -- Biography.
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