Black Basketball Players—It seems impossible to believe that there was ever a time when basketball was a segregated sport, but up until the 1950-51 season, the NBA was a white-only league. Before the NBA desegregated, the only integrated basketball league was the National Basketball League (NBL), which had been around since 1937 and became integrated during the 1942-43 season (five years before Jackie Robinson would go on to break the color barrier in baseball). The all-black New York Rens were brought into the NBL during the 1948-49 season, and moved to Dayton to replace a league franchise that had folded. Before joining the NBL, the Rens (also know as the New York Renaissance) had been one of several all-black professional teams that included the Harlem Globetrotters. The 48-49 season would be the last of the NBL. The next year, the NBA, which had been formed in 1946, became integrated. Earl “The Big Cat” Lloyd (Washington Capitals, pictured above), Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton (New York Knicks, pictured below), Chuck Cooper (Boston Celtics) and Hank DeZonie (Tri-Cities Blackhawks) were the first black players in the NBA. Of these four, three had individual distinctions within the NBA. Cooper became the first black player drafted to the NBA, Clifton was the first to sign a NBA contract, and Lloyd was the first black player to actually play in the NBA.
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