October 13, 1922 August 31, 1990
Believe it or not, I am a Knicks fan. And despite this train-wreck
of a season, I still tune in with my League Pass and watch as many of their games
as possible. Dont ask me why.
During one of the time outs of the Knicks/Wizards game last
week, I saw a commercial for an interesting documentary that MSG (the Knicks
main TV network) was premiering named Lapchick
and Sweetwater Breaking Barriers.
The story focuses on a former Knick named Nat Sweetwater
Clifton, who in 1950 became the first African-American to sign an NBA contract. While most people know about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in
baseball, few are aware (myself included) of Sweetwaters story.
As we all know, it is Black History Month, and it is very
important to recognize some of the great African-Americans that have paved the
way for so many. According to a recent study, the NBA is 75 percent Black the
highest in the big four sports leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL).
So, it is hard to imagine that 57 years ago, there wasnt a single
Black player before a courageous Knicks coach named Joe Lapchick signed
Nicknamed Sweetwater for his love for sodas as a kid, Clifton was an incredible
athlete, playing both basketball and baseball star while at Xavier. After
college, Sweetwater played in a Black basketball league as well as Negro League
Baseball. Standing 6-8 with superior handles, he was invited to play for the
world famous Harlem Globetrotters.
It was Sweetwaters performance as a Globetrotter that
caught Lapchicks eye and encouraged him to sign the 27-year-old phenom. The
move was definitely not a popular choice, and both Sweetwater and Lapchick were
subjected to racial and derogatory remarks.
Regardless, Clifton went on to have a nice NBA career. He
was a member of the 51 Knicks team that went to their first NBA Finals in
franchise history. In his eight seasons in the League, he averaged close to a
double-double. And at age 34, Clifton
made history by becoming the oldest first time All Star in history a record
that still stands today.
Although I have not seen the documentary yet, I have read it
is good. It helps viewers understand how different life was back then and how
tough things were for Black people.
No matter what your heritage, if you are a basketball fan,
you should know your history. It is pioneers like Sweetwater and coach Lapchick
who allowed guys like Jordan, Magic, Wilt and LeBron to grace us with their