Courting the past

Courting the past

The basketball court at the new T.C. Williams High School will be named for Earl Lloyd and dedicated to the former NBA star on Dec. 1.

Many of the students who attend T.C. and even some of those who play on the basketball court that will be named for him dont know about Earl Lloyd.

Horace Burton, Herbert Spears and Albert Burts know about him, though. He was the friend who played on the playground with them and was their high school teammate at Alexandrias Parker-Gray High School. Earl Lloyd is much more than the first African-American to play in the National Basketball Association; he is their friend.

It was 1946 and Alexandria was divided by race. There were the white kids who went to George Washington High School and played at Municipal Stadium and had a gym and uniforms and buses to take them to away games, and there was us, Burton said. We played on a field that looked like an elementary schools football field and didnt get new uniforms unless we paid for them. But, year after year, we won.

In 1946, Parker-Gray High School put on a basketball court a group of young men known as the Dream Team.

Everyone on the team contributed, Spears said. Coach Johnson told us what he expected, and thats what we did.

The Parker-Gray Bulldogs played other colored schools from Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia and North Carolina.

I had a chip on my shoulder because we were such a small school and everyone made fun of us, Burton said.

There were 360 kids in our high school and our facilities were terrible. I remember kids would get off their buses from schools in Baltimore and ask if this was the elementary school field. When we beat them, we would ask them if they still thought it was the elementary school. It still makes me mad.

The 1946 Dream Team won a District championship but lost the state championship by one point. Then Lloyd went on to West Virginia State to play basketball.

All five of the starters were supposed to go on to West Virginia State, but things happened, Spears said. Lloyd went to State, Oliver Ellis to Howard, Red Jackson to North Carolina A&T, and Burton to Shaw.

I had a ticket to West Virginia State and got to the station and asked the ticket agent to change it, Burton said. Everyone else was going to state and I wanted to go somewhere else.

After two CIAA titles for West Virginia State, Lloyd was drafted by the Washington Capitols in 1950. He played in the first game of the season but then had to report to the Army because he had been drafted. Lloyd got weekend passes to play for an all-star team and, after the Army, became a member of the Syracuse Nationals.

Thats when I got to see him play, Burts said. The Nationals came to St. Louis, and I was stationed near there. Throughout his career, if a friend of his was in the town where he was playing and didnt call, he was mad. Earl never forgot any of us.

After the Nationals, Lloyd went to the Detroit Pistons and was a player-coach. He is retired now, in the NBA Hall of Fame and living in Tennessee.

But he tells everyone how much he loves his hometown, Alexandria, Spears said. I remember when he signed with the Capitols, the newspaper said he was from Washington and he demanded a correction. He has always been willing to do whatever he could to help others in Alexandria.

The dedication
The court that will be named for Earl Lloyd is in the high school named for T.C. Williams, superintendent of schools in Alexandria when Lloyd was a student here. What does that dedication mean to his Parker-Gray teammates?

We are always glad to see Earl get his due, Burton said. But to be honest, it really hurt me when they named the new high school after T.C. Williams. He didnt do anything for us and, as a matter of fact, did terrible things to us.

The Dream Team traveled to away games like the Virginia state championship in the back of a cattle truck owned by a teammates relative because the school system refused to provide the team with a school bus.

If we got new uniforms, we had to pay for them, and we had grass bags to carry our equipment in, Spears said.

Burton continued: We wanted to play a city championship against the kids at GW, and T.C. Williams said no because black kids couldnt play white kids. One of the players at GW left the team in protest. We all used to play games with each other on Sundays. The problem wasnt the kids: It was downtown.

So, the Dec. 1 event is an honor for Earl and we will be there, but it doesnt have much relevance for us because there are so many people at Parker-Gray who should be honored, Burton said. For example, coach Louis Johnson, our coach. If one of his athletes wanted to go to college, he found a college that would take that kid.

The court will be dedicated in ceremonies between the Episcopal v. Bishop Ireton basketball game and the T.C. v. St. Stephens game on Saturday, Dec. 1, at the T.C. Tip Off Classic.