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Black history and HBCU basketball come together in the ESPN documentary “Black Magic”

By Add Seymour Jr.

There weren’t a lot of flashbulbs popping when Earl Lloyd stepped onto the basketball court for the Oct. 31, 1950, National Basketball Association game between the Washington Capitols and the Rochester Royals.

It hardly made ripples in the sporting world at the time. But the little-known Lloyd’s appearance – the first time an African American played in an NBA game – was one of the first salvos in a decade of historic change for African Americans.
It’s those kinds of black history stories that director Dan Klores wants to share through his ESPN documentary, “Black Magic.”

“I hope that ‘Black Magic’ is the type of film that resonates all around the country, no matter one’s race, because it tells people about the incredible history, contributions and pride that characterizes historically black colleges and universities,” Klores said in a telephone interview.

The Atlanta University Center community will hear that story during a Monday, Feb. 4 screening of a condensed, two-hour version of the film at Sale Hall’s Chapel of the Inward Journey from 7-9 p.m. followed by a question-and-answer session with Klores, Lloyd and NBA legend Earl "The Pearl" Monroe. Ron Thomas, director of the Morehouse Journalism and Sports program, will moderate.

“Black Magic” also has a Morehouse connection with Samuel Jackson ’72 as one of three narrators for the documentary. The others are jazz great Wynton Marsalis and NBA player Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets.

“Black Magic,” which was co-produced by Monroe,” tells the story of the civil rights movement through the eyes and accomplishments of basketball players of that era who played at historically black colleges and universities like West Virginia State University, where Lloyd starred.

The four-hour documentary premieres on ESPN in two, two-hour segments on March 16 and 17.

The stories show how the civil rights movement and the plight of HBCU basketball players during this period are connected. For example, three students were killed during the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre after a protest over the desegregation of a local bowling alley. One of the slain students – who wasn’t even involved in the protest -- was a high school basketball player on campus at South Carolina State University for a recruiting visit.

“A lot of ‘Black Magic’ is going to be brand new history to anybody who sees it,” said Thomas, an author and former NBA beat writer. “We’ve heard some of the names, but I don’t think many people have seen them or heard their experiences.”

“It’ll also help people to realize the incredible amount of basketball talent at HBCUs up into the 1960s,” he said.

That talent included players like Monroe whose two All-American years in 1965 and 1967 at Winston-Salem State University bookends the monumental 1966 season when for the first time an all-black squad won an NCAA title as Texas Western defeated powerhouse Kentucky. The game is depicted in the movie “Glory Road.”

Both Lloyd and Monroe are members of the NBA Hall of Fame.

“I think the film is about men of extreme courage in the face of great injustice. A younger generation needs to see that,” Klores said. “They need to be reminded.”

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