Integration of the National Basketball Association by John Bonacorsi
Integration of the NBA On May 25, 1950 Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton became the first African-American to sign with a NBA team. Earl Lloyd was the first black man to set foot on a NBA court and play in a game on October 31, 1950. Charles “Chuck” Cooper was drafted by the Celtics on April 25, 1950, becoming the first black to be drafted into the NBA.
Challenges for Pioneers Signs like this made it clear that black players had to sleep in a separate hotel from their teammates. Red Auerbach shared his knowledge of the game with all of his players, including Chuck Cooper.
World War II Blacks involved in the war effort, including the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American flying unit, wanted to share the freedom they had fought for. One realm of America that did integrate was the basketball world, with over half of the NBA being black by 1965.
Integration Went Unnoticed The spotlight did not shift from the Major Leagues and Jackie Robinson to the NBA and Earl Lloyd primarily due to the relatively small fan base of the NBA.
Integration Went Unnoticed All-black barnstorming teams, like the Harlem Renaissance (Rens) and the Harlem Globetrotters, were so popular that NBA owners often featured them as part of doubleheaders.
Integration Went Unnoticed The NBA’s two predecessors, the NBL and BAA, both experimented with integration. The NBL began integrating in 1942, and in 1948 it allowed the Dayton Rens, an all-black team, to enter the league.
Harlem Globetrotters The Harlem Globetrotters’ two victories over the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers made it starkly evident that black players could stand toe-to-toe with white ones. The destruction of the mentality that white players were better than blacks, fostered the progression of integration.
Harlem Globetrotters The Harlem Globetrotters’ game was characterized by highflying jams, scintillating passes, and flashy ball handling. This type of playing style translated to the NBA with the entrance of more and more blacks into the league.
Integration Leads to Evolution of the NBA In the 50’s and 60’s a great wave of talent entered the NBA, with players like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor changing both how their position was played and how the game was played
Integration Leads to Evolution of the NBA Bill Russell popularized the stringent defense characterized by highflying blocks. The impact of his presence on the league is clearly depicted in the number of championship rings he has (11).
Integration Leads to Evolution of the NBA Wilt Chamberlain became the league’s first prolific scorer. Rivalries like the one he had with Bill Russell have been used ever since as key marketing tools for the NBA.
Integration Leads to Evolution of the NBA As the league became more and more integrated, the old style became dated, and the NBA became infused with new styles. Elgin Baylor brought the highflying dunks, while Earl Monroe weaved between opponents with his fancy ball handling. Elgin Baylor Earl Monroe
Blacks in the NBA Today With the arrival of Michael Jordan to the NBA in 1984, the popularity of the game was changed forever. Michael Jordan later became a part owner of the Washington Wizards, while BET founder, Robert Johnson, became the first black majority owner of a major sports franchise.
Today’s Game Integration not only changed the appearance of the league, it arguably saved the sport.