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Meet The First Black Players In The NBA

Earl Francis Lloyd (The Zebra Press)


The first African American players in the National Basketball Association in the 20th Century all came into the League in 1950. They were Earl Francis Lloyd (Syracuse Nationals), Charles Henry Cooper (Boston Celtics), and Nathaniel Clifton (New York Knicks) They began their academic training at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Lloyd, 6′ 6″ was born on April 3, 1928, in Alexandria, Virginia and graduated from Parker-Gray High School in Alexandria in 1946. He then enrolled in West Virginia State University in 1946 and while an All–American player he received his Bachelor of Science degree in health & physical education in 1950.  The 21-year-old was then drafted in the ninth round and on October 31, 1950, he became the first Black athlete to play in the NBA with the Washington Capitols. Lloyd also played for nine seasons with the Syracuse Nationals (who later became the Philadelphia 76ers). In 1970, Lloyd became the first full-time African American head coach in the league when he coached the Detroit Pistons for a year.


Charles Henry (Chuck) Cooper (


Cooper, 6’ 5,” was born on September 29, 1926, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After graduating from Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh he also enrolled in West Virginia State University in 1944. However, he transferred to Duquesne University in 1946, and in 1950 he signed with the Harlem Globetrotters. On April 25, 1950, he became the second African American drafted into the NBA when the Boston Celtics chose him as the 14th overall pick. Cooper made his NBA debut on November 1, 1950, one day after Lloyd, against the Fort Wayne Pistons. He played four years with the Celtics, then was traded to the Milwaukee Hawks. He ended his career with the Ft. Wayne Pistons. Afterward, he earned a Master of Social Work from the University of Minnesota in 1960.


Nathaniel Clifton (

Nathaniel Clifton, 6’ 8,” was born Clifton Nathaniel on October 13, 1922, in England, Arkansas, and reared in Chicago, Illinois, from age eight. He reversed his name during his senior year at DuSable High School in Chicago, graduating in 1940. From 1942 to 1943, he was a student at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana and played only one season in college. In 1948 Clifton signed with the Harlem Globetrotters. Clifton became the third African American player to sign an NBA contract and made his New York Knicks debut on November 4, 1950, three days after Cooper. At age 34, Clifton was the oldest player in NBA history to be named a first-time All-Star. In 1958, Clifton was traded to the Detroit Pistons, and a year later, in 1959, he left the team. He played for a startup pro team, the Harlem Magicians, and then spent several seasons with the still-popular Globetrotters and another startup, the Chicago Majors. After a knee injury in 1965, Clifton retired. And in 1978, he was inducted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame.

On February 5, 1984, Charles Henry Cooper died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on February 5, 1984, at the age of 58. Nathaniel Clifton died on August 31, 1990, in Chicago, Illinois. He was 67.  Earl Francis Lloyd was installed in the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and, a decade later, in 2003, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Lloyd died on February 26, 2015, in Crossville, Tennessee at the age of 65. In 2019, Cooper was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.


Written by PH

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