They Cleared the Lane


They Cleared the Lane

The NBA's Black Pioneers

Ron Thomas

288 pages


March 2004


$19.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Today, Black players compose more than eighty percent of the National Basketball Association’s rosters, providing a strong and valued contribution to professional basketball. In the first half of the twentieth century, however, pro basketball was tainted by racism, as gifted African Americans were denied the opportunity to display their talents.
Through in-depth interviews with players, their families, coaches, teammates, and league officials, Ron Thomas tells the largely untold story of what basketball was really like for the first Black NBA players, including recent Hall of Fame inductee Earl Lloyd, early superstars such as Maurice Stokes and Bill Russell, and the league’s first black coaches. They Cleared the Lane is both informative and entertaining, full of anecdotes and little-known history. Not all the stories have happy endings, but this unfortunate truth only emphasizes how much we have gained from the accomplishments of these pioneer athletes.

Author Bio

Ron Thomas is director of the Morehouse College Journalism and Sports Program.


"They Cleared the Lane: The NBA's Black Pioneers, by Ron Thomas, came out one year ago this month, and the world shrugged. But it should have smiled. At least the sports world should have. Historians should have. And people who love basketball should have smiled and said, 'Thank you, Ron. Thanks for your journey, your persistence, your insights, your kindness.' . . . There is so much information in this book that you can start anywhere and just read a few pages and then stop and think for a while. . . . The experience, Thomas says, was 'the longest, most significant adventure of my life.' Sports fans should know what he unearthed. Everyone should know how he did it."—Rick Telander, Chicago Sun-Times

"Thomas. . . . has written a fascinating book about the African-American basketball players who never had a chance to display their talents in the first half of the 20th century. . . . The author treats readers to an exceptional insiders view, providing in-depth interviews with players, their families, their coaches, and their teammates."—Choice.

"San Francisco sportswriter Ron Thomas has produced a tribute to these [African-American pioneer players] that is full of surprises. . . . The book's most intriguing point is that African-Americans have not only contributed to the game of basketball but also transformed it. Baseball is played much the same today as it was when Jackie Robinson broke in, but Wilt Chamberlain introduced an entirely new way of playing center, forcing the league to change the rules to take away some of his advantages. Bill Russell similarly revolutionized the position on defense. Elgin Baylor all but invented the above-the-rim game, and Oscar Robertson patented the triple double."—Sports Illustrated

"Thomas's is probably one of the two or three best books about professional basketball ever read by this reviewer. The compelling narrative will hold every reader's interest. . . . This book is important not just for basketball fans but for those who want to understand the role played by African Americans in the development of the NBA and big-time sports today."—Library Journal

"Most long-term NBA fans are aware of the NBA's role at the forefront of sports integration, but Thomas places a very human face on it and points out that there were sacrifices made and risks taken to bring the league to its current position as the world's top professional sports attraction."—Booklist

San Francisco Examiner sportswriter Thomas debuts with a. . . . detailed history of the integration of the National Basketball Association. . . . A good introduction to the men who revolutionized the NBA."—Kirkus Reviews

“The first effort to get the story down for the ages, and it does important work.”—

"They Cleared the Lane is on point and on time. I am deeply touched by this book. . . . Growing up in the '50s exposed me to segregation and prejudice up close. However, it was pale in comparison to what the game's black pioneers experienced. For their perseverance and dedication, I thank them and honor their journey."—Julius Erving, former NBA star

"They Cleared the Lane reminds us of how far we’ve come on race as a country. . . . It tells us about all those African American greats who never had a chance to show their skills to the public as a whole. It is a story of black courage and white far-sightedness. It faces the issues squarely and honestly. It shows those who were the path breakers that we have not forgotten them."—Former United States Senator Bill Bradley

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