Beyond Basketball: The Social Context of Lewis Lloyd’s Career

Sports are much more than just games and matches… This especially true of the relationship between basketball and the city of Philadelphia. Youth, high school, collegiate and professional basketball are social phenomena in the City of Brotherly Love. For thousands of people, they are an important part of the individual, external, social constructions that influence our lives and development. Moreover, this relationship is constantly evolving as we age. In short, basketball in Philly has a meaning that goes far beyond box scores, standings and championships.

Basketball is intricately related to the social and political contexts in which many Philadelphians, especially Black males, live. Basketball provides stories and images that many use to explain and evaluate these contexts, the events in our lives, and our connections to the world around us.

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Mr. and Mrs. Tee Parham

For example, the playing careers of John Chaney, Tee Parham and the late Claude Gross inform those willing to probe rigidly enforced Aparteheid-like racism/white supremacy and segregation in Philadelphia throughout the late 1940’s, 1950’s and early 1960’s. One reads/hears about their magnificent exploits in cramped gyms across the city and wonders how they would have actually fared if given an opportunity to compete in what we now refer to as the Big 5. Alas, it was not to be… For one reason and one reason alone they were denied access to the Palestra playing floor. They had melanin in their skin and, thus, it was of a darker hue. That fact forbade their participation. In this way, basketball can help explain and evaluate the proliferation of racism/white supremacy in Philadelphia and across the entire United States of America during that period.

By the mid-late 1970s and the 1980’s two issues were vying for center stage in most policy debates surrounding urban centers in America. One, adequately educating Black American public school students and two, the decimation of millions of Black families through the scourge of drug addiction.

Just as an analysis of the playing careers of Chaney, Parham and Gross informs and explains the racism/white supremacy of their era… An analysis of the illustrious playing career of the recently deceased Lewis Lloyd forces us to confront the monumental shortcomings of urban public education and address the ongoing problem of chemical dependence within the Black community.

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Claude Gross, Philadelphia!

Lloyd came to the fore during one of the most competitive eras in the history of scholastic basketball in Philadelphia. His career overlapped that of one of the greatest schoolboy basketball players of the past half century, West Philadelphia’s Gene Banks. Banks was the Golden Boy… He was the great player that also did everything the right way. Banks crosses all of his t’s and dotted all of his i’s. He named HS All-American three times. He was named to the very first McDonald’s All-American game and was the MVP of the contest. Banks also played in the prestigious Dapper Dan Classic and won MVP honors in that game. He was the consensus number one High School player in America and, fittingly, accepted a scholarship to Duke University where he was named ACC Rookie of the Year and ultimately became an All-ACC and All-American collegiate player.

Everybody knew exactly who Gene Banks was in 1977… Even a skinny 7th grade student at Thomas Studevan Middle School in Darby Township. Basketball was a religion in Darby Township and Banks was a prodigy. In 1977, Darby Township put together an undefeated regular season only to lose to eventual state champion Elk Lake in the Final Four of the PIAA playoffs. Alton McCollough (6’8 Center) was a junior and he teamed with Billy Johnson (6’7” PF) and Mike Gale (6’5” SF) to provide DTHS with a frontline that trounced every opponent Delaware County had to offer. These were my basketball heroes. I saw them everyday, I lived down the street or around the corner from them. They were accessible to me. Banks was on a totally different level. Even at 12, I was voracious consumer of sports journalism. I read the Delaware County Daily Times and the Philadelphia Daily News sports sections every single day.

As a result, I was intimately aware of the exploits of Gene Banks and the legendary Speedboys…

Lewis Lloyd’s exploits, however, escaped me as child. I pretty sure I heard the name, but it most certainly wasn’t revered like that of Gene Banks.

Unlike Banks, who easily acclimated himself to the rigorous academic environment at highly selective Duke University in the Fall of 1977, Lloyd traveled a far more treacherous academic path. His career almost ended before it even began because of academics.

Late in the public league playoffs of 1977, following yet another majestic performance where Lloyd dropped 37 points (14-19 fgs) and grabbed 17 rebounds in a win over Southern, Daily News sportswriter Ted Silary wrote:

“Despite all his talent, Lloyd’s climb up the basketball ladder of success will be tough at best. Though a senior eligibility-wise he still carries a 10th grade course load.”

Wait… What?

The great “Black Magic” was playing basketball in the Public League as a senior, he was in his 4th year of high school and he was a sophomore academically. Yup… This is problem that has persisted for far too long and impacted the life chances of far too many talented young Black men. Fast forward 31 years, Jared Denard was the Associated Press, Class A Pennsylvania Player of the year in 2008. He was first team All-State, All-City and All-Public. Like Lloyd, three decades earlier he also a sophomore academically at the conclusion of his scholastic playing career.

The ability of guys like Lewis Lloyd and Jared Denard persevere and flourish despite the odds stacked against them serves as a guidepost for younger player experiencing academic struggles. Their struggle and subsequent academic success must be celebrated. Too often we seek to hide the academic pain and suffering while only celebrating the athletic accomplishment.

Fuck that! Lewis Lloyd had to do it from the muscle… He had to dig himself out of the dirt and I truly admire him for that.

While Gene Banks played in the Final Four as a freshman, Lloyd toiled away at New Mexico Military Academy. While Gene Banks captured bright lights in the finest basketball conference in America, Lloyd was playing in little, cramped and suffocating JUCO gyms for 2 years.

But, to his credit, he never lost focus and worked diligently on both his game and his academics. By 1979, Lloyd was in a position to accept a scholarship to play for Drake University in the Missouri Valley Conference.

They had no idea what was about to come…

Clearly, Lloyd had some unresolved issues on the court. He had a BOULDER on his shoulder! As a result, he punished opponents. He was relentless on both ends of the court as he led the nation in scoring and rebounding. He quickly assumed the throne vacated by Larry Bird as unquestioned best player in the MVC. Lloyd was the man… He was a two-time All-American and two-time MVC Player of the Year. His number 30 will never be worn by another Drake University player.

Back in Darby Township… As a high school sophomore in 1981, I read about Lloyd. But this was before ESPN, before social media, before youtube. I knew he was from Philly. I knew he was from Overbrook. I knew he was “Black Magic” but I had never really watched him play. I just knew he was in “the league.”

Lloyd would spend two nondescript seasons in Golden State. During his rookie year, he appeared in just 16 games and averaged a mere 5.9 mins in those appearances. He managed to squeeze out 3.6 ppg in these limited minutes. His second season saw Lloyd emerge as key member of the rotation. He played in a total of 73 games, with 24 starts, and his minutes tripled to 18.5. His production also jumped as he averaged 9.4 ppg.

Then came the breakthrough… At the age of 24, Black Magic was traded to the Houston Rockets…

Awwwww Shit!

For the first time he was entrenched as an NBA starter. Lloyd appeared in all 82 games for the Rockets that year with 82 starts. He logged 31.4 mpg and put up 17.8 ppg while shooting 52% from the field.

LLOYD

L-R Kevin McHale, Larry Bird and Lewis Lloyd

Ohhhhh… So that’s Lew Lloyd… It all began to make sense to the kid from Darby Township. By 1986, Lloyd was one of the leaders of a strong Rockets squad that knocked off the mighty Lakers to reach the NBA finals where the faced the Boston Celtics.

The playoffs that year were a total immersion into the game of Black Magic. He would dunk on Kareem, guard Magic, post up Byron Scott all while looking like he was going about 3/4 speed! How did he do it? It looked so effortless…

Once they knocked off the Lakers, you had to root HARD for Lloyd and the Rockets. But Kevin McHale and Larry Bird were some Bad Muthafuckin white boys… McHale averaged 25.8 ppg and 8.5 rpg while Bird (Finals MVP) damn near averaged a triple double 24 ppg, 9.7 rpg and 9.5 apg. They were just too much for the Rockets.

Fuck the Celtics!

But at 21, I was able to fully appreciate the subtle, smooth greatness of Lewis Lloyd on the court. I found myself trying to will in his floaters over the outstretched arms of Robert Parish. I wanted him to BUST Danny Ainge’s ass! I tried to mentally close the rim when Bird and Ainge launched those picture perfect jumpers… To no avail… Swiiiiiish! Damn near every time… FUCK!

Pass the blunt… Lew will be back! So I thought…

Later that year, Lloyd and teammate Mitchell Wiggins tested positive for cocaine and were suspended from the NBA for 2 1/2 seasons. Like with his academic difficulties, many Lloyd fans feel a need to try to obscure this aspect of Lloyd’s career. It’s an understandable urge. But doing so prevents us from placing his career in it’s proper historical context. Lloyd, Wiggins and others like Michael Ray Richardson were caught up a wave of cocaine that flooded the Black community.

By 1986, crack cocaine and all the mayhem that came with it were ravaging Black communities all across America. Cities like Philadelphia and Houston were hit especially hard. In Philly, the Junior Black Mafia (JBM) was aggressively seizing control of cocaine distribution throughout the city utilizing a classic American strategy of brute force. “Get down or lay down” was the last thing any ”independent” drug dealer wanted to hear in the mid 1980s. You either had new business partners or you made reservations for a dirt nap.

As a college sophomore, trying to explore city nightlife for the first time, I saw grown men just hand over the keys to their EXPENSIVE cars out of fear. It was not unusual to see a guy one evening and hear about his death the next day. Guns, crack, violence, prostitution and dysfunction came together to form stew of misery that flooded Black communities, destroyed families and ended the playing careers of some fantastic NBA players.

Cocaine abuse, like opioid abuse today, represented a health crisis.

But Lloyd, Wiggins and tens of thousands of other Blacks with cocaine addictions were not treated like opioid “patients” are today. The focus was not on treatment as it is the predominantly white opioid addict population of today. They were not considered ill men in need of medical attention, they were “addicts,” if not “criminals” that needed to be isolated and ostracized.

While suspended, Black Magic played for the Cedar Rapid Silver Bullets in the CBA where he averaged 18.9 ppg and 6.6 rpg during the 1988-89 season.

Lloyd was finally reinstated in September 1989. He would never regain the form he had shown as a starter for the Rockets. Houston released him and he played two games with his hometown 76ers before retiring from professional basketball.

Every once in a while I would venture into the city to catch a summer league game and there he was… Still going strong… Giving the youngins hell… Same floaters… Same eurosteps… A little slower but still extremely effective…

Over the last couple of years, I actually got to know Lloyd a little bit… About five years ago, while watching an AAU tournament at Philly U, I was seated right next to Lloyd. We chatted and he told me his son was playing. He was always extremely gracious. If you didn’t know he was a college All-American and high profile NBA player, there was nothing about the way he carried himself that would tip you off. He was just Lew Lloyd from Philly.

Indeed, that day a good friend of mine who happened to be an NBA agent at the time asked, “who is that”? I became irate, “you don’t know who that is and you’re an NBA agent from Philly… Shame on you!” But he didn’t know…

Indeed, far too many didn’t know.

In attempt to pay proper homage to his illustrious playing career, the Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame inducted Lloyd in his first year of eligibility. The committee was excited and eager to embrace Lloyd… But he was away seeking treatment when the induction ceremony was held. I got to speak to him over the phone and he was proud and anxious to receive his award recognizing his enshrinement.

Since he returned to Philly, every once in a while we would cross paths and he would remind me that I still had HIS award in my possession.

On June 8, 2019, I took a picture of Lloyd’s Hall of Fame Award and posted it on his facebook page. I wrote “I have something that belongs to you in the caption.”

On July 5, 2019, Lloyd passed away.

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L-R Lloyd, Makhai Hartley, Mo Howard and Gene Banks

I look forward to presenting the award to his family. Like Lew, his brother Daryl (Drake University) and his nephew Sean Lloyd (Southern Illinois) had much success competing in the Missouri Valley Conference. Like Lew, they are both gentlemen of the highest order.

To those that want to hide the obstacles Lloyd had to overcome and ignore the demons he battled to the end, I say you just can’t skim through the music. You have to listen to the whole album.

Despite the challenges he faced… Black Magic played some sweet, sweet music. One of the GREATEST to ever lace ’em up in the history of Philadelphia… Rest in Peace.

 

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Now Appearing in NYC: Langston Galloway

“Start spreading the news

I am leaving today


I want to be a part of it


New York, New York”

Frank Sinatra, New York, New York


New York Knicks v Washington Wizards
Langston Galloway drives against South Philly’s Rasul Butler in his NBA debut in D.C.

You don’t get to choose your family. You are born into your tribe. However, sometimes your friends become family over time. Because it’s a conscious choice it makes the bond even stronger and more special. Every once in a while you get to witness incredible journeys unfold.

It was the last week of February 1992 and my friend/brother, Geoff Arnold, and I decided to make our way the legendary festival of excess and debauchery known as Mardi Gras. Now, we are from the southern end of Darby Township, a town of 3,000 people, 2 bars about 7 churches and 3 traffic lights. We had always wondered about Mardi Gras.  The closest thing we had back home were basement $1 parties with red lights.  The highpoint of these parties was a slow drag with “that” girl when the DJ played the Whispers. I had just turned 27 and we wanted to experience the lewdness, drunkeness and gluttony first hand. We wanted to see it, touch it and smell it.

We wanted to experience a truly special week.

We decided to head for the bayou. After flying into Houston, we had to catch a prop plane for the short jaunt to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Maaaan listen…. The propeller driven plane scared the shit out of me. It felt like we were flying in Snoopy’s doghouse during one his legendary battles with the Red Baron.

“They have potholes in the sky? What the fuck?”

Fortunately, we reached Baton Rouge. We were a lil’ battered and a lil’ bruised, but we were safe. We were ready to go all out.  We drove to, Geoff’’s sister, Jeralyn’s house. Immediately, her husband Larry Galloway, made us feel right at home… My man from day one…

Larry and LangLangston and his 1st coach, Larry Galloway

That first night we went out to pick up some seafood. So… we enter this huge fish market. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life. They don’t do it like that in Philly… Tony’s Seafood Market is the largest purveyor of fresh fresh and crawfish in the Gulf region. Tony’s has been known to sell as much as 50,000 pounds of live and boiled crawfish in one day. I didn’t know places like this existed. It was a seafood mall.

Ever the gracious host, Larry asked me what I wanted. “We down south… Catfish man… I want the catfish.” I watched them take the live catfish out of the tank and expertly slice and dice it in a matter of seconds. Within just a few minutes were on the road back to the house.

Once we reached the kitchen, Larry said “Yo Del, check this out” as he unwrapped the fish. The filets still had a pulse. While Tony’s had removed the heart, the” heartbeat” remained. Beyond fresh, is the only way to describe the catfish. Jeralyn, battered it up and fried the best catfish I have ever had. I remember that day like it was yesterday.

The main reason that day sticks in my memory is because while Jeralyn was preparing the fish there was a little boy propped up on the counter in a baby carrier. He was about 11 weeks old. I liked this kid. He was friendly and outgoing. He wouldn’t stop smiling. He was inquisitive, reaching, grabbing and full of energy.  That boy was Langston Galloway, number 2 for the New York Knicks.

Lang Debut-page-0Langston Galloway during home debut in Madison Square Garden

Yeah… later that week, Geoff and I made our way to New Orleans and, of course, we dove head first into the sinning, partying, drinking, parading, bead throwing and tittie observing that is Mardi Gras. They don’t party like that at the Darby Township Fire House… But, the thing I remember most… the thing that sticks out the most about that week was meeting that friendly, smiling little boy.

Fast forward 23 years, to January 8, 2015, my college buddy, Hansel Canon and I had the distinct pleasure of driving south on 95 to the Verizon Center in Washington, DC and watching that little boy play in his first NBA game against John Wall and the Washington Wizards. Nervous and clearly pressing a bit he managed to score 7 points in 17 minutes. He shot 2-8 from the field, while dishing 3 assists and grabbing 2 rebounds. Still, not a bad first night in da muthafuckin’ league…

We waited to talk to him after the game. The visitors passes he provided gave us access to the area next to the team buses.  As usual, he was unfailingly polite and extremely appreciative while expressing gratitude for coming to see him play his first NBA game. My friend, Hansel Canon, has been to just about everyone of Langston’s college and tournament games.  Like everyone else that has gotten to Larry, Jeralyn and Langston, he has fallen in love with them. He was able to freely express his joy to Langston and they engaged in repeated hugs and celebratory “Black” handshakes. You know, the kind President Obama gave Kevin Durant during his visit with the Olympic team.

Hans amd LangLangston and Hansel Canon after immediately after his NBA debut

For me, it was tough… I was happy but I had to be reserved. Langston said “Man.. you ain’t come to none of my D-League games, but you here at the first NBA game.” Wanting to appear tough and unaffected, I replied “Man… Fuck the D-League.”

I wanted him to think I wasn’t overly impressed with his exemplary performance in that league. I didn’t want him to know I watched every D-League game on youtube… I didn’t want him to know I studied every box score immediately after each game… After all, I never let on that I had done the same thing when he was in Portsmouth and the NBA Summer League…

I had to keep it together… Throughout his life, I’ve always held back on effusively praising him. After this game, I said “You did good, you look good… Now we gotta stay up here.”

“I gotchu!” was his simple reply.

He said those words with his usual confidence. Nothing extra… Just straight talk, “I gotchu!”

While nearly everyone professes a profound admiration for  “swagger”, they are usually referring to a false bravado exemplified by chest beating, unnecessarily boisterous gesturing and endless self-promotion. Lang, on the other hand, oozes “swag” because he really believes he belongs. He makes absolutely no effort to convince you.

He just shows you….

Phil Knight should really holla at the boy, because he exemplifies the Nike tagline “Just Do It” more than any kid I know…

When he said, “I gotchu!” I knew he meant it… I knew was going to prove he belonged.

I had to hurry up and make my way toward the exit… I was about to lose it… I was gonna cry… No way I could let Lang see me crying tears of joy!

“Sheeeeeeeeeit…” as Clay Davis would say, I’m the Ol’ head… He’s the youngbuck… I’m the “Uncle”… He’s the “nephew”… I didn’t want to confuse him… So I had to leave before I started crying like a little beeeeyotch…

The very next night, Geoff calls me and we’re watching Lang playing in a nationally televised game against the Houston Rockets led by the magnificent James Harden… In this, his second game, he plays 31 minutes and scores 19 points. He shot 6-10 from the field, 3-4 from the 3-point line, while snaring 4 rebounds and dishing 3 assists. During the course of the game he had a “here I am” moment when the Rockets failed to put a body on him and he got hold of a missed shot with his right and and flushed it cleanly through the basket with incredible force. Look closely in the background and you will see Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Amare Stoudemire leap from their seats in support of their new teammate. Everybody loves Lang…

Of course, the struggling Knicks have lost both games in which he has played, but there can be no denying that Lang has displayed an NBA level of skill, athleticism and confidence.

As I write, I think about the summers when he came to Philly. For years, I would always make him stand back to back with me and let him know he was still a little boy. Then one summer while in High School, he passed me by… I thought about all the times he would workout in the morning and come to my office to work on SAT/ACT prep even though he was NCAA qualified.

Lang just wanted to do better… just because…

I think about when Lang and his father collected thousands of sneakers for a community service project.  I think about the time the Galloways arranged for a significant donation to the HERO Foundation in North Philadelphia because they wanted to give back to a city that accepted Langston with open arms.

Lang SneakersLarry and Langston Galloway with thousands of donated shoes

I think about the times we talked about his recruiting process. I think about all the times I pretended to be impartial while his uncle was recruiting him. The same brother/friend I went to Mardi Gras with had to grind it out and really recruit the kid that was on the kitchen counter. After 3 state Championships, being named All-State a few times and showing out at Nike’s Peach Jam, Lang was recruited at a pretty high level. Texas A&M, Baylor, LSU and few other high majors were in hot pursuit.

Lang signing with SJULangston signing Letter of Intent to attend St. Joseph’s

I think about all the times I pretended I wanted him to go where he would be happy. I was pump faking… I wanted Lang to go to St. Joseph’s. I wanted to see every game he played. I wanted to be a part of his college experience. I wanted Geoff to land his nephew. But, I always acted like I was indifferent. Truth be told… I wanted to see Langston to win an A10 Championship like his Uncle Geoff. I wanted Langston to place the nets around his neck and hold the trophy high over his head.

Lang and GeoffGeoff Arnold 1986 A10 Champion, St. Joseph’s 2014 A10 Champions

I think about every one of the 1,991 points he scored on City Line Avenue. I think about the time I saw him make 10 straight three-pointers at Hagan. I think about the All-A10 First Team selection, the All-Big 5 Selections and Allstate NABC Good Works Team selection.

Lang nets

Langston Galloway after 2014 A10 Championship Game

I think about him helping my wife do yard work. I think about all the times I busted his ass in golf… I think about him graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Marketing.

What I don’t think about… What I don’t worry about is his future with the NY Knicks. For me, that was secured the moment Lang said “I gotchu!”

Larry and Jeralyn have done a phenomenal job with the little boy on the kitchen counter.  Over the years, they always make sure to thank me for supporting Langston. It was an absolute pleasure… I thank them for sharing their son with me and the rest of Philadelphia for four years.

Lang FamilyLangston, Jeralyn (Mom), Larry (Dad) and Lawrence (Brother)

Now appearing in NYC: Langston Galloway! His heart is pumping like that catfish filet from Tony’s… real strong!!

Yo Spike… Tell the Knicks to “Do The Right Thing” and lock my youngin up for the rest of the year!!