The NBA was founded in 1946 by owners of major ice hockey arenas, and was made up entirely of white players. The first game took place at Toronto’s ice hockey arena - Maple Leaf Gardens, with the New York Knickerbockers and Toronto Huskies playing in front of 7,090 fans. New York won by a slim margin (68-66).
The Canadian Huskies franchise folded in 1947, despite offering free stockings to all women in attendance to boost popularity. The Huskies were reinvented after a 48 year absence and are now known as the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors went on to win the 2019 NBA Finals, defeating the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors 4-2, earning the franchise its first NBA championship and the first win by an NBA team outside of the United States. Proud Toronto fans went crazy.
In its second season, the first non-white NBA player, 5’7” point guard Asian American Wataru “Wat” Misaka, joined their ranks. He played 3 games for the New York Knicks and scored 7 points before being cut from the team mid-season.
An African American contingent followed in 1950, made up of 6’7” Earl “Big Cat” Francis Lloyd (Washington Capitols), 6’5” Charles “Chuck” Henry Cooper (Boston Celtics) and 6’8” Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton (New York Knicks). Lloyd was the first black man to play in an NBA game, Cooper was the first black man to be drafted by an NBA team, and Clifton was the first black man to sign an NBA contract.
An independent biopic about Nat Clifton aka Sweetwater and this important moment in history will be released in theaters across America on Friday, April 14th.
Newcomer 6’3” Everett Osborne plays Clifton. Osborne earned a full D1 basketball scholarship to UTRGV, after which he went on to play pro basketball as a swingman in Australia. His love of the game and his athletic skills shine brilliantly through in the film.
The cast includes veteran actors Kevin Pollak, Cary Elwes, Jeremy Piven, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Ri’chard. Gary Clark Jr., Jim Caviezel and NBA champion Bobby Portis Jr. make special appearances.
After being recruited away from the black-only Globetrotters, Clifton played primarily as a starter for the New York Knicks from 1950-1957. He was traded to the Fort Wayne Pistons in 1957, and retired from the NBA in 1958. After a return stint with the Globetrotters, he suffered a knee injury and eventually became a Chicago cab driver.
“The only regret my dad ever had was that no one knew his story … I’m so excited the movie finally got made … ” (Jataun Robinson, Clifton’s daughter)
Did you know that there is an American Black Film Festival? ABFF has been around since 1997! The 27th annual platform for black artists in front of and behind the camera will be held in Miami Beach from June 14-18 and stream on ABFF Play from June 19-25. The list of nominees is not yet out, but it promises to be an outstanding salute to black culture and creative achievement, as usual.
Mr. Clifton, we salute you. Quizefy blog readers, make sure you watch this important biopic. And don’t forget to try your hand at today’s matching Sweetwater Quiz of the Day on your Quizefy app. Armed with hints from today’s blog, just go ahead and give it a shot!