The man who helped pave the way for almost every star African-American player from Wilt Chamberlain to LeBron James has passed away. Lloyd started at power forward – with an emphasis on power – for the 1954-55 NBA champion Syracuse Nationals, who moved to Philadelphia in 1963 to become the 76ers. Lloyd now lives in a retirement community in Crossville, Tenn. He’s a major, if obscure, figure in NBA history.

Lloyd and the man he calls “my hero” would have plenty to talk about. Lloyd said he encountered virtually no racist treatment from his team mates and opponents during his decade (1950-60) in the NBA. He played in a brawling era, when basketball resembled the current-day NHL. Fights were common, and Lloyd never walked away from one, but he says the punches never were provoked by his race.

“I like Shaquille O’Neal,” Lloyd says. “The guy plays hard. He’s unselfish. He’s a hell of a passer. He just a pro guy. I like the way he hurts people in the normal course of his job. He doesn’t go out of his way to hurt anybody, but when he goes to the basket, you got to be a brave man to get in his way.”

Rest in peace.

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