Terry Foster / The Detroit News
Earl Lloyd doesn’t like being called the Jackie Robinson of the NBA.
Sure, he was the first black player in the NBA, but the struggles he went through were nowhere as severe as Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
Lloyd faced some of the same prejudices — he couldn’t stay in the team hotel or eat in certain restaurants — but he didn’t face as much racism and hatred as Robinson did.
But he still has a great story.
“I take polite umbrage to (being compared to Robinson) because you know what I had to go through paled to what Jackie had to go through,” said Lloyd, in Detroit on Wednesday to promote his book, “Moonwalker, The story of Earl Lloyd.”
“To perform in that hostility and he made the Hall of Fame in the first blush. And to compete at that level and to go through that was unbelievable. My life was a cakewalk.”
There is, however, a dispute whether Lloyd, 81, actually was the first black in the NBA.
He wasn’t the first player drafted in 1950, (he was selected in the ninth round), but he made his debut with the Syracuse Nationals on Oct. 31, four days ahead of Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton and a day ahead of Chuck Cooper, who played with the Boston Celtics Still, Lloyd had an impact.
• Lloyd and Jim Tucker were the first black players to win an NBA championship in 1955, when Syracuse beat the Fort Wayne Pistons.
• In 1965, he nearly became the first black coach, but Pistons general manager Don Wattrick hired Dave DeBusschere. Lloyd later coached in Detroit.
“Detroit was a coming out party for me,” said Lloyd, who lived in Detroit for four decades before moving to Tennessee. “You gotta figure coming from an all black high school, an all black college and people were into protecting me. In Syracuse, every black person lived in
the 15th ward.
“And then you come to Detroit. Detroit to me was like that big beautiful butterfly coming out of the cocoon. Black folks were doing things, and it was great to see.”
Still, through the years, he remains an old school man with an old school story.
“I always admired Lloyd,” Pistons broadcaster George Blaha said. “I knew at some level he was a pioneer and he carried himself well and was a gentleman … But meeting him at different appearances in Detroit, I was happy to find out what I thought of Lloyd from afar … he was for real.”