Earl Lloyd And Basketball's Cruel February

February has been a cruel month for the basketball community.

The passing of coaching titans  Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian were crushing blows in varied ways. Smith's innovative coaching style and his bold stances outside of the 94 feet of hardwood were deservedly and fondly remembered because they shaped more than one of the most successful programs in college sports history. "The Shark" was an anxious taskmaster who gave young men opportunities that could have only came with a program many feared would have succumbed to a lot more than on-campus temptations in a city like Las Vegas. His was also the loudest horn against the hypocrisy of the NCAA long before it became the cause du jour.

The completely unexpected death of Jerome Kersey hit home for many of us who remembered when he dared to challenge the highest of fliers once upon a time in 1987. Yet, it was also a potent reminder that being a halfway decent human being still has the greatest perk in the world; being loved for more than what you do.

Though the month ends tomorrow, February fades into March with the news of another passing of a basketball legend. Earl Lloyd, the first black player to appear in appear NBA game, died yesterday at the age of 86. He was much more than that footnote, however, though he made several more in a playing and coaching career that led to a long overdue induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor.

By many accounts, he was the kindest of the kind (last night, TNT's Inside the NBA featured a wonderful retrospective of Lloyd which reflected his genial personality). He was ever aware of his place in the Association's history, but in a way that didn't display any of the understandable bitterness that could have defined his later years. With basketball's integration history not nearly as visible in comparison to that of baseball, Lloyd endured every bit of the pains and torments, yet it had taken far too long for the sporting public to hear his own story.

Shortly after the news hit last night, the second person that came to mind was Claude Johnson, who was featured on this site last summer with the brilliant exhibit on the Black Fives era of basketball. Johnson was kind enough to share this 2010 interview he conducted with the NBA pioneer, and it's worthy of your time to listen. Also of note is a documentary that hopes to shine more light on the almost-forgotten man called The First to Do it: The Life and Times of Earl Lloyd.  It's the work of Coodie and Chike, who filmed the revered ESPN 30 for 30, Benji.

This month has been unkind in many ways for the basketball world with the losses of such revered men. If there is a silver lining to all of this, it's that when we lose our creators, our doers, our thinkers and our actors in sport, many of us who were too young - or perhaps of the age where we can remember some, but not all of their exploits - take it upon ourselves to learn who they were in a time we would not have otherwise.

In the case of Earl Lloyd, while we no longer have the opportunity to say "thank you" in person to a man who endured plenty for this game's growth, today is as good of a time as any to show him our appreciation from this day forward.

Related: When The Black Fives Ruled Basketball: How An Exhibit Highlights A Hidden History

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