Pioneers in NBA History

Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the importance of a man who made a lasting impact on the world.

The NBA had pioneers of its own during this time who helped to make the league what it is today.

Here’s a quick list of some names you might not recognize, but who played a crucial role in breaking down barriers in the NBA decades ago.

  • Chuck Cooper: On April 25, 1950, Cooper became the first African-American player drafted in the NBA.
  • Harold Hunter: A day after that season’s draft – April 26, 1950 – Hunter was the first African-American player to sign a training camp contract in the NBA.
  • Earl Lloyd: On October 31, 1950 with the Washington Capitols, Lloyd made history by becoming the first African-American to play in the NBA.
  • Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton: In 1951, after signing with the New York Knicks following a few years with the Harlem Globetrotters, Clifton became the first African-American to play in the NBA Finals.
  • Bill Russell: In 1966, Russell began his three-year stint as the player-coach of the Boston Celtics. By doing so, Russell became the NBA’s first African-American coach in the league.
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