The Big Cat was back in his hometown jungle for a roaring reception benefit.
Alexandria native and NBA star Earl Lloyd, known to fans as Big Cat for his feline grace and agility on the court, was the featured guest Sunday night at the Westin Hotel for Hopkins House, the local preschool academy and family learning center. Lloyd attended the nonprofit center as a young boy.
Hopkins House president Glenn Hopkins said the event on Sunday was expected to raise $50,000 from the sale of event tickets, proceeds from the silent auction and contributions from table hosts and corporations.
This was the first year Hopkins House presented the Distinguished Alumni Award. Hopkins said Lloyd was the ideal recipient. Hes an inspiration to young people. He went through some difficult times and has achieved so much. This is exactly the kind of example we try to teach the students at Hopkins House.
Born in Alexandria in 1928, Lloyd conceded he grew up in less than optimal circumstances, but has not lost his sense of humor about being born on the wrong side of Washington St. We didnt have after school activities getting across the street in one piece was an activity, Lloyd said. He added that his educational environment left much to be desired. When you dont feel safe, you cant learn.
When he came to the Hopkins House as an adolescent, he knew the institution would have a profound effect on his life. I knew when I walked in there, that this was a hallowed place. They planted seeds in me.
Those seeds bloomed into a star athlete and trailblazer for African-Americans. Lloyd graduated in Park Gray High Schools class of 1946 as a basketball and baseball star. At West Virginia State University, he led his basketball team to win three CIAA Conference championships. As a professional, he played for teams such as the Washington Capitols and the Detroit Pistons.
The highlight of his career was being the first African-American player in the National Basketball Association. Lloyd was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
People like Lloyd are heroes, according to WJLA anchor Maureen Bunyan, the events mistress of ceremonies. She told the Alexandria Times she had never met Lloyd, but agreed to come due to the Hopkins Houses special award for him. The Hopkins House has such a long history as a Washington institution, so when they asked me to come celebrate Earl Lloyd, I agreed.
Eighty-year old Lloyd relishes being a role model for the next generation of athletes. A touching moment came when Lloyd fielded questions from T.C. Williams High School basketball players.
How does it feel to have the basketball court at our school named after you? asked Travis Berry.
Lloyds reply was poignant. Well, I imagine there are a lot of future presidents running up and down that court, so it is an honor I take very seriously.
The event also brought together Hopkins House trustees and local supporters. They used the opportunity to celebrate their progress. James McNeil, a trustee who attended the event with his wife Juliette, said that the new Hopkins House facility in Mount Vernon will have thirty more students by the summer and the original facility in Old Town has a waiting list. The growing number of students and the results the center provide keep him inspired.
Kevin Bergin, a trustee and former law enforcement officer, said that keeping youth grounded and off the street starts at a young age. Its documented that if you get kids off on the right foot, they have a small chance of getting involved in crime. Thats why I am here, he said.
While Lloyd hangs his hat in Tennessee these days, the heart of Big Cat never strays far from Alexandria.
Whoever said you cant come home didnt know what the hell they were talking about, he said. Alexandria is always home for me.