- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2001

It is a tale … full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

William Shakespeare, "MacBeth"

I doubt that His Bardness ever endured an NBA All-Star Game, but as usual Willie got it right. Our All-Star Weekend all the high-fives, slam dunks and drum rolls meant nothing at all.

Except for Earl Lloyd.

Not many of the Beautiful People bothered to attend Friday's youth clinic or evening reception for Alexandrian Lloyd, who became the NBA's Jackie Robinson a half-century ago just some pretty notable basketball folks who wanted to thank him for shattering another barrier of segregated mid-century America.

Folks like Red Auerbach, Arnold Heft, Sonny Hill, Clarence "Big House" Gaines, Sam Jones, Leonard Hamilton, Earl "the Pearl" Monroe and Al Attles. NFL Hall of Famers Lenny Moore and Willie Wood came to pay their respects, too, because when a barrier falls in one place, it makes it that much easier for the next to come tumbling down.

There were speeches galore, plus proclamations from Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, Virginia Gov. James Gilmore and Alexandria Mayor Kerry Donley. This was "Earl Lloyd Day" throughout the region, and who really cared if the pols were a trifle tardy hopping on the bandwagon? Better late than never, right, especially during Black History Month?

Through it all, Earl Lloyd stood and smiled politely. He is 72 now and retired to Tennessee, although his dark hair and youthful manner make him seem about 50. It's nice to be recognized in your own lifetime, even when it comes 51 years down the historical road. Besides, he never planned to make history on the night of Oct. 31, 1950, when he took the court in Rochester, N.Y., on behalf of the late, unlamented Washington Capitols. It was, after all, a quirk of the schedule that sent him into a game 24 hours ahead of the NBA's other two rookies of color, Chuck Cooper and Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton.

Nonetheless, Lloyd came first, and the first to do anything worthwhile becomes at least a footnote to history. From this distant perspective, perhaps we wonder why Lloyd's debut and those of Woody Strode and Kenny Washington in the NFL a few years earlier commanded so much less attention than Robinson's appearance with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. The answer is that, in those days, baseball was the professional sport. Pro football and basketball were nowhere, so to speak, except in places like Rochester.

It is possible nowadays to chuckle, at least publicly, at the racial restrictions of so long ago, which is what Lloyd does. "Doggone," he said at Friday night's reception, "this has been a fantastic, overwhelming, humbling day. If I can last another 15 or 20 years, they might put my name on a building [in Washington]."

But seriously, folks … Hamilton thanked Lloyd "for making it possible for me to be a head coach in the NBA." He added, "Without him, all those players with those fat contracts might not have them."

Of course, Lloyd was more than a symbol. He played just a handful of games for the Caps before Korea beckoned, but when he returned it was to a solid nine-year NBA career as a role player, if not quite a star.

"He was a lot like Scottie Pippen," recalled ex-Celtics star Jones, a frequent adversary. "I don't know if he shot as well as Scottie, but he had great jumping ability and always played good defense… . A good guy, too. A lot of times the night before we played in Detroit, Earl would have me to his house for dinner remember that we couldn't eat in a lot of places then. Red didn't like me going, because I was friendly with somebody on the other team. Once the game started, though, we weren't friends."

And so it went on a day for Lloyd that started with the cacophony of a clinic attended by several hundred young people at Alexandria's Charles Houston Recreation Center, on the site where he played at Parker-Gray High School. Both affairs were lovingly staged and managed by Washington radio sports talk pioneer and community activist Harold Bell, whose Kids In Trouble Inc. has done so much for the community in recent decades. At the finish, other individuals and corporations were eager to share the credit, but both tributes were Bell's doing. He and Kids In Trouble's board of directors probably don't want our thanks, but we should tender them anyway.

Now that Lloyd has proved he can go home again take that, Thomas Wolfe what lies ahead? Big House Gaines, who said his 842-victory coaching career at Winston-Salem State nearly ended early because his teams couldn't beat Lloyd and West Virginia State, answered that one very well: "Next step, the [Basketball] Hall of Fame."

And why not? They should have room in Springfield, Mass., for a guy who helped change his sport and the lives of so many who play it.

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