Friday, May 20, 2022
Black History: Blacks in the NBA
By Jason Lewis (Sports Editor)
Published February 23, 2011

Earl Lloyd (No. 11) and Jim Tucker (No. 14) were the first two black NBA players to play on a championship team when the Syracuse Nationals won the title in 1955.

In the early days there were no black NBA players, but it did not take long for roles to be reversed.


By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
[email protected]

At the NBA Jam Session there was an exhibit that showed the team photo from every NBA championship team, dating back to the 1946 –47 season. 

Starting from the first NBA championship team in 1947, the photo of the Philadelphia Warriors is a complete contrast to what we have seen over the past 50+ years in the NBA. 
All of the players in the photo were white.

That was true for every championship team photo through the 1953 –54 season, when the Minneapolis Lakers won their fifth championship. 

The first photo with a black player was the 1954 –55 Syracuse Nationals championship photo.  On that team were two black players, Earl Lloyd and Jim Tucker. 

Lloyd was the first black player ever to play in the NBA.  He was selected in the ninth round by the Washington Capitols, and he made his debut on October 31, 1950, in the season opener against the Rochester Royals. 


Lloyd was born in Alexandria, Virginia, and played college basketball at West Virginia State College.  Before playing for the Capitols, Lloyd said that he had never sat next to or spoken to a white person before. 

In 1950 there were two other black players.  Chuck Cooper was the first black player drafted into the NBA when the Boston Celtics selected him in the second round, and Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton was the first black player to sign an NBA contract when the New York Knicks signed him on May 24, 1950. 

Lloyd became the first black player to play in a game due to scheduling.   The Capitols started the 1950 season a day before the Celtics and Knicks did. 

When the Celtics won their first championship in 1957, the only black player on the team was Bill Russell, but the NBA was quickly changing as it was obvious that the black players were more athletic than the whites. 

By the Celtics 1966 championship team, they had seven black players on the team.    

Going down the line of championship photos at the NBA Jam Session, a viewer can see that the league became “blacker” in a very short period of time.  By the 1970s, every photo had more black players than white, and in the Lakers 2000 championship team photo, there was only one white player, Travis Knight.  The other 14 players were all black.

Today about 80 percent of the NBA players are black, and that number has shown no signs of decreasing.


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