According to the Unofficial 2013 NBA Player Census, African American players make up 72.2 percent of the league. Once upon a time, though, the National Basketball Association had zero black athletes on the court. Four years after its inaugural season, the league decided to follow Major League Baseball's lead and break its own color barrier. Well before the emergence of legends like Bill Russell in 1956, Wilt Chamberlain in 1959, or Oscar Robertson in 1960, there were a select few trailblazing athletes who possessed the courage to join the NBA and weather the storm on and off the court. These brave individuals made a lasting impression on the game, and, through their determination and unwavering strength of character, changed the cultural landscape forever.
While Earl Lloyd, Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, and Don Barksdale may not be the household names that Russell, Wilt, and The Big O have became over time, their positive and lasting contributions to the NBA cannot be overlooked. To better understand their journey to The Association, their sometimes rocky road while in the league, and the impact they made after their playing days came to an end, here is Chuck Cooper and the Little-Known History of the NBA's First Black Players.