When T.C. Williams High School — yes, the one from ‘Remember the Titans’ — named its court after Earl Lloyd Ten years ago, the school honored the first black player in the NBA even though he attended Parker-Gray, the all-black high school
Back when Earl Lloyd was in high school, entering T.C. Williams High School, let alone standing in the center of its basketball court, would have been completely unimaginable.
But 10 years ago, Lloyd stood facing a packed Alexandria, Virginia, gymnasium applauding him as he soaked in the adoration from the middle of the school’s new basketball court.
On Dec. 1, 2007, T.C. Williams, the school from Remember the Titans, the 2000 sports film that starred Denzel Washington, named its new court after Lloyd, the first black player in the NBA, a league champion and Hall of Fame inductee.
Lloyd didn’t attend T.C. Williams — he went to the all-black Parker-Gray high school — but the school thought it was only right to name its new court after the trailblazer.
“Nothing beats to come back to your hometown for this kind of an honor,” Lloyd told The Washington Post. “It probably stands right up there with the Hall of Fame.”
School board chairman Claire M. Eberwein said: “Today’s basketball athletes are heroes to our children, and this was made possible by Earl Lloyd’s accomplishments. Mr. Lloyd, welcome to your court.”
The dedication ceremony was part of the All Alexandria Tip-Off Challenge, a series of games featuring the city’s four high school teams. Just before the Earl Lloyd Court was unveiled, he thanked the audience and the event’s organizers.
“You cannot understand what an honor this is,” he said. “There’s no better honor than being validated by people who know you best. I will always, always treasure this.”
Lloyd, born on April 3, 1928, began his basketball career on the blacktops of Alexandria but didn’t play his first organized basketball until he played for the city’s segregated Parker-Gray High School. He would continue his playing career at West Virginia State University.
Lloyd was walking with a friend in 1950 when they heard his name on the radio. When Lloyd went to find out why, he was informed he had been selected in the ninth round of the NBA draft by the Washington Capitols.
“If somebody said I’d be drafted by Washington, I’d never have believed it,” Lloyd told the Post. “Cradle of segregation.”
He entered the league three years after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in major league baseball and four years before the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which desegregated schools.
Lloyd wasn’t the only African-American who would be playing in the 5-year-old league, but thanks to the NBA’s schedule, Lloyd would become the first black man to play in an NBA game on Oct. 31, 1950. The Capitols went to Rochester and lost 78-70.
“The game was so uneventful,” he said. “If you were going to pick a city to play the first NBA game with a black guy on the floor, Rochester was the place to play.
“They probably thought I was a goblin,” he joked, because the game was played on Halloween. “How do you work it into a normal conversation?”
Unlike Robinson, who was the subject of racist taunts from all sides, Lloyd was only called names by the people in the stands.
“Fans only,” he said. “I can truthfully say I was never called a name by an opposing coach or player. … When a guy is standing next to you on the foul line, it’s a lot harder to call him names.
“My parents taught me you don’t dignify ignorance.”
Only seven games into his career with Washington, Lloyd was drafted into the Army. He would spend two years in the military before his discharge, at which point he returned to the league. He joined the Syracuse Nationals in 1952 because the Capitols had folded.
Lloyd won an NBA championship with Syracuse in 1955, seven months before Robinson would win his first and only World Series title. Lloyd and Jim Tucker were the first African-Americans to play on an NBA championship team.
Nicknamed “Big Cat,” Lloyd averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 560 NBA games before his retirement in 1960. His final two seasons in the league were spent with the Detroit Pistons, a team he would later coach. In 2003, Lloyd was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor. He died in 2015 at age 86.
“A young black kid born in Alexandria in 1928 in a huge cradle of segregation. … Those child’s prospects went from dim to none,” he said. “I was a giant question mark in 1928, and in 2003, I became a huge exclamation point.”