Prior to 1950 however, the NBA was home to zero African American players. Until the Boston Celtics with the head coach at the time Red Aurbach and Walter A. Brown selected Chuck Cooper with the first pick in the second round of the 1950 NBA draft. A bold decision at the time since the United States was still very much segregated at the time. However, Boston Celtics owner Walter Brown couldn’t care less about Cooper’s skin complexion. Stating after they selected cooper “I don’t give a damn if he’s striped, plaid or polka dot. Boston takes Charles Cooper of Duquesne.”. From that moment on the color barrier in the NBA was broken allowing the NBA we see now to exist.
Since it’s Black history month I feel it is important to take a look at the pioneers of the NBA. Most importantly when it came to breaking the color barrier in the sport that is now 74.2% African American players.
The career of Chuck cooper
Chuck Cooper was born on September 29, 1926, in Pittsburg Pennsylvania, and attended Duquesne University. He became an All-American and led the team to a 78-19 record and two NIT tournament appearances during his time there. Also being the first African American to play a collegiate basketball game south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Chuck in the NBA, however, had a less storied career with averages of 6.7 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game, and 1.8 assists per game. The Boston Celtics drafted a role player by today’s definition.
Cooper’s Arrival in Boston however coincided with the beginning of their legendary run of winning games and championships. In every year of Chuck’s career under the helm of Red Auerbach Boston made the playoffs. Never having a winning percentage under.500 percent and making the eastern conference finals twice between 1950-1954. The following season chuck was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. Although he never got to experience winning an NBA championship. As the Celtics didn’t win their first until the 1955-56 season. He is credited with being one of the players that turned Boston into a winning organization. Cooper is also credited with paving the way for all the African American players drafted after him most notably Earl Lloyd.
The career of Earl Lloyd
Earl Lloyd was born on April 3, 1928, in Alexandria, Virginia. Lloyd was a six-foot-six-inch forward that attended West Virginia University that was known for his defensive tenacity on the court. Also, drafted in the 1950 NBA draft like Chuck Cooper in the 9th round with the 100th pick by the Washington Capitals. He credits Chuck Cooper for leading the way with being drafted seven rounds prior stating “I truly believe that if Chuck had not been taken in the second round, which is a monumental thing, I would not have been taken,”. Lloyd was the first African American to play in an NBA game playing one night ahead of cooper and scoring six points for the Capitals.
Earl Lloyd was able to experience more personal success playing in the NBA than cooper. Lloyd played for nine seasons while also winning an NBA championship in 1955 which of course makes him the first African American to be able to accomplish that feat. With career averages of 8.4 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game, and 1.4 assists per game what Earl lacked on the offensive side of the ball he made up for on the other end. As his former coach from Syracuse, Al Cervi, once said in an interview to Ron Thomas for the book, They Cleared the Lane: The Nba’s Black Pioneers “He’s an unsung star. Anybody can score. Lloyd was an excellent defensive player. That was No. 1 on my roster.”
Both Chuck Cooper and Earl Lloyd were enshrined in the NBA hall of fame. With cooper being inducted in 2019 and Lloyd 2003 they will always be remembered for breaking the color barrier in the NBA and leaving a legacy that lasted longer than their basketball careers.