It Took Four Years For The NBA To Break The Color Barrier

The National Basketball League desegregated before the NFL and MLB.

The National Basketball Association still has not fully explained why the Basketball Association of America and then a merged entity called the National Basketball Association did not sign Negroes players between 1946 and 1950. The NBA did not allow Negroes players even after pro football, the NFL and AAFC, allowed Negro players on rosters in 1946 and Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.

The NBA can trace its roots to the National Basketball League which started in 1937 and that league was desegregated in 1942. The NBL and BAA merged in 1949 but the BAA was picking off NBL teams who had stars or had solid ownership in 1948. One of those teams, the Minneapolis Lakers led by George Mikan took on the Harlem Globetrotters in 1948. It was just an exhibition game that happened to sell out the Chicago Stadium. In 1949, the Globetrotters would beat the Lakers and that opened the door for Negro players slightly but John McLendon, who the coach of the North Carolina College for Negroes, had to convince an owner to give a player a chance. He took Harold Hunter and Earl Lloyd to Washington for a try-out with the Washington Capitols in 1950. Lloyd made the team, Hunter didn’t. The BAA owners according to people who were around in the late 1940s thought basketball crowds would never accept a black player and that is why the first four years of the NBA had all white rosters with the exception of one American-born player of Japanese descent. The color barrier came down in 1950 with Boston, New York and Washington hiring Negro players. Two African-American teams, the New York Rens and the Globetrotters won the 1939 and 1940 World Professional Basketball Tournament defeating National Basketball League teams. The defunct NBL, not the NBA, was the ground-breaking league.

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