Originally published 2/17/2017 at 06:00a.m., updated 2/16/2017 at 12:26p.m.
Three years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, a 21-year-old from Alexandria, Va, became the first African-American to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Earl Lloyd, born in Jim Crow Era Virginia in 1928 to a father who worked in the coal industry and a stay-at home mother, was drafted in the ninth round 1950 NBA Draft by the Washington Capitals.Known as “The Big Cat,” Lloyd made his NBA debut on October 31, 1950 and scored six points. He would go on to play nine seasons in the NBA with Washington,
Syracuse and Detroit, where he averaged more than eight and six rebounds. Lloyd died in 2015at the age of 86.Several current NBA star players, including Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks and Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs are paying homage to Lloyd in The First to Do it: The Life & Times of Earl Lloyd, a new documentary about the hardwood pioneer.“It is important to make this type of film because it’s imperative to know the history of our pioneers, those who pushed the needle forward for us,” said Coodie Simmons, one of the film’s directors. “If we don't tell their stories, who else will care enough to tell them? It’s our responsibility as storytellers.
”Throughout the coming spring, private screenings are scheduled in Detroit, where Lloyd played and later coached; West Virginia, where Lloyd attended college; Alexandria, Virginia, where he was born; and Washington, D.C. and New York. It’s anticipated the film will receive wide release in theatres in April or May.The First to Do It will be screened at NBA All-Star Weekend on Feb. 16 in New Orleans and is anticipated to be released in April or May in theaters everywhere.
Directed by Simmons and Chike Ozah, and produced by Arka Sengupta, the film boasts an executive producer list that includes Anthony Parker, former Dallas Maverick; Michael Finley, and Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs.On October 31, 1950, Lloyd stepped onto the court with the Washington Capitols and became the first African-American to play in the NBA. He went on to become the first African American to win a NBA championship with the Syracuse Nationals, and the first African American full-time head coach in the NBA for the Detroit Pistons.
Lloyd was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
When once asked about his greatest achievement in basketball, he replied, “Getting there. ”The film recounts Lloyd’s journey, from growing up in deeply segregated Alexandria to witnessing the first black President of the United States"The film also tells the story of how the modern game""was formed--from the dominance of the Harlem Globetrotters to the introduction of the 24-second clock.
"The new documentary also examines the legacy of""desegregation in America and the ongoing role basket-""ball has played in America’s inner cities.""“The story of Earl Lloyd needed to be told in a way""that would reach today’s young generation of basketball fans,” said Sherrie Deans, executive director of the NBPA Foundation, which producers say provided a substantial grant for the making of the film. “He is one of the founding fathers of what the NBA has become today, paving the way and setting an example for athletes both on and off court. His legacy isn’t just a part""of black history, it is a part of American history, and we""are proud to be involved in this film.”
"It is important to learn from Lloyd who represented a model citizen and lived a life worth dissecting, Ozah said.
“His journey alone tells us about our progress or lack"thereof in America, which is relevant now more than ever. Earl’s story should never be forgotten simply be- cause of his contributions, not just as a basketball player but as a human being whose life touched so many others,” he said. “Earl Lloyd planted a seed that grew into the type of tree that a lot of people can continue to eat from.”