Skip Navigation


Basketball Pioneer Earl Lloyd

By Michael Hawkins

Earl Lloyd on the court
Earl Lloyd, the first black player in the NBA, lived in Institute and played for the West Virginia State College Yellow Jackets from 1946-50. Earl Lloyd is at center in this photograph from 1949, courtesy of West Virginia State University Archives.


Earl Francis Lloyd is a little-talked-about pioneer in sports and civil rights. Born April 3, 1928, Lloyd was the first African American to play in the NBA, a significant feat, considering that the NBA now consists predominantly of African Americans. He played professionally for nine years, with the Washington Capitals, Syracuse Nationals, and the Detroit Pistons. Though a native of Alexandria, Virginia, part of Earl’s roots will forever be intertwined with the soil of West Virginia. He spent four years as a star player for the West Virginia State College Yellow Jackets in Institute, Kanawha County.

Lloyd, now in his early 80's, is insightful, wise, funny, and very well-spoken. He has had a remarkable life, and he reflects on some of his unique experiences and his time here in West Virginia.

Michael Hawkins. Who was the most influential person in your life?

Earl Lloyd. The most influential person in my life was my mother. She got up to a fourth-grade education. She was tough, but fair. I played three sports in high school. My mother told me, “You going someplace where people don’t know you, and everything you do is a reflection of this town, this family, and your school.”

I grew up in segregation. The teachers had it harder than we did, but they wanted to make sure students made it. The most important people in town were the teachers. If word got back that I was acting up with a teacher, my mother would kill me.

MH. What brought you to West Virginia?

EL. My high school coach, Louis Randolph Jackson, was a graduate of West Virginia State College. In 1946, black kids knew little about college. Though I had a few other scholarship offers, wherever Coach Jackson said I was going is exactly where I was going. And I didn’t argue, because if school could make me half the man my coach was, that would be great.

MH. What was your first impression of West Virginia State?

EL. My first impression was this was the biggest place I had ever seen. It was almost bigger than my hometown. I played right away as a freshman. Many guys on the team were away fighting WWII, so coach threw me to the wolves. It made me grow up a lot.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.