The basketball world lost two great men and players late last week. On Feb. 26, Earl Lloyd passed away at the age of 86. Often in sports we hear about great pioneers who transcend the game, such as Jackie Robinson in baseball, but seldom do you hear the story of Earl Lloyd. On Oct. 31, 1950 Lloyd became the first African-American to play an NBA game, doing so at the young age of 22.
The game, which only had 2,186 fans in attendance, received very little media attention due to the fact that the NBA was still relatively new at the time. Lloyd recorded six points and 10 rebounds in a 78-70 victory over the Rochester Royals. He played for the Washington Capitols for a mere seven games before the team folded, at which point he was signed by the Syracuse Nationals. Lloyd played with the nationals for six seasons, winning the NBA Championship in 1955, and so became the first African American to play in an NBA Championship game. In 2003, Lloyd was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor, meaning he made a significant impact on the game going beyond the court – a designation well deserved for such a historic figure.
Teams around the league are also in the process of remembering the late Anthony Mason, who passed away on Feb. 28 due to congestive heart failure. Mason played in the NBA for 13 seasons, including five memorable years with the Patrick Ewing Knicks. Mason quickly became a fan favorite due to his brutish defensive style and outgoing personality on the basketball court. The pinnacle of Mason’s career came during the 1995 season, when he won the Sixth Man of the Year Award. Anthony Mason did try not to impress you with flashy dribbling or high flying dunks, but rather wowed with his nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty style of play. He was the working man’s NBA player, and someone to whom fans could relate. He was a journeyman who would literally fight you in order to keep his job and was afraid of nobody.
The frontcourt of Mason, Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley is still remembered as one of the most intimidating to date. Mason will be most remembered for giving Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon a run for his money in the 1994 NBA Final, which the Rockets won in seven games. Mason’s former coach Pat Riley released a statement in regards to Mason’s unfortunate passing, “News like this is not only sad, but it’s tragic. Anthony Mason was a very young man with a great family and friends…There were so many great moments that we shared that I will never forget. Our prayers and sympathies are with his family. May God bless his soul.”
Anthony Mason and Earl Lloyd may be gone, but their impact on the NBA will most certainly never be forgotten.