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Black pioneers in the NBA

Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton New York Knicks center grabs

Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton New York Knicks center grabs rebound in first quarter of NBA eastern playoff game at the 69th Regiment Armory. (April 8, 1952) Credit: AP super intern Ashley Melfi and I worked on a photo gallery (which you can see here) highlighting black pioneers in sports.

Of the dozens of athletes, coaches and executives included, seven were connected to the NBA. They included:

Chuck Cooper

In 1950, Cooper was taken in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Celtics, becoming the first black player to be drafted into the NBA. Cooper played for six seasons: four with Boston, one with the Milwaukee Hawks, and he split his final season between the St. Louis Hawks and the Fort Wayne Pistons. His best season in the league was his rookie year, when the 6-5 forward averaged 9.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

Nat Sweetwater Clifton

After stints with the New York Renaissance -- an all-black basketball team -- and the Harlem Globetrotters, Clifton, then 27, became the first black player to sign a contract in the NBA, inking a deal with the Knicks. Clifton, an NBA All-Star in 1957, played seven seasons with the Knicks and one with the Pistons. He averaged 10.0 points and 8.2 rebounds over his career.

Earl Lloyd

One of four black players to play in the 1950-51 NBA season -- Cooper, Clifton and Hank DeZonie the other three -- Lloyd was the first to step on the court. Taken in the ninth round of the 1950 NBA Draft by the Washington Capitols, Lloyd spent one season in Washington before a six-year run with the Syracuse Nationals, and then two seasons in Detroit with the Pistons. Lloyd's Nationals won the 1954-55 NBA championship; he averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game during the season.

Wayne Embry

Embry was the first black general manager in the NBA, hired, by the Bucks in 1972. He served as an NBA general manager in four different decades -- the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s -- and won a pair of Executive of the Year Awards (1992 and '98, both with the Cavaliers). 

Bill Russell

One of the most decorated players in NBA history, Russell made history three different ways; as the first black NBA head coach with the Celtics in 1966, as the first black head coach to win an NBA title with the Celtics in 1968, and as the first black player inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975. Russell, who served as player-coach his final three seasons in Boston, won 11 total NBA championships.

Robert L. Johnson

When Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, acquired the expansion Charlotte Bobcats in 2003, he became the first black majority owner in United States professional sports history.

Joe Dumars

Following his Hall of Fame playing career, Dumars was hired as an executive by the Pistons. When Detroit won the NBA Championship in 2004, Dumars became the first black general manager to win an NBA title.

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