Knicks celebrate African-American history around anniversary of Nat Clifton’s debut


The Knicks used their off day in Washington, DC to visit the National Museum of African American History & Culture. Their visit came on the eve of the 68th anniversary of Nat Clifton breaking the color barrier for the Knicks and NBA.


November 4th 1950:  Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton becomes first African American to play for the New York Knicks.

By Vivek Dadhania

Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton made his Knicks debut today against the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. Despite the 87-76 loss, Clifton scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and 4 assists. The Blackhawks were a precursor to the current Atlanta Hawks.

Clifton became the first African American player to play for the New York Knicks and was the first to sign a contract with an NBA team.  After serving in the Army for three years, Clifton spent a few years playing for the New York Rens (the only all-black team in the National Basketball League) and the Harlem Globetrotters for a then-reported annual salary of $10,000. The Knicks acquired Clifton for $12,500 and Clifton received the $2,500 in profit from the contract.

The 1950-1951 season marked a major milestone for the NBA as they broke the color barrier. The Boston Celtics drafted Chuck Cooper to become the first African American player drafted in the NBA. While Clifton was the first to sign an NBA contract, Earl Lloyd was the first African American to play in an NBA game with the Washington Capitols.

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