Earl Lloyd, the first black player in NBA history, died yesterday. He was 86. Lloyd's alma mater, West Virginia State, confirmed the death but did not provide details. Lloyd made his NBA debut in 1950 for the Washington Capitals, just before fellow black players Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton and Chuck Cooper played their first games. "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 helped the Syracuse Nationals win the 1955 NBA title, joining teammate Jim Tucker as the first black players to play on a championship team. 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. He missed the 1951-52 season while serving in the US Army. Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003 as a contributor, Lloyd was 22-55 as Detroit's coach in 1971-72 and the first nine games in the 1972-73 season. Lloyd, a native of Alexandria, Va., lived in Crossville, Tenn.