The year is 1950, and everything is rapidly changing not only in the National Basketball Association but the world. The season before was the last year that the NBA would be an all-white basketball league. Four African-American players earned roster spots at the start of the 1950-51 NBA season. Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, and Henry “Hank” Dezonie played for the Rochester Royals (Sacramento Kings), New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (Atlanta Hawks) respectively.
Hank DeZonie attended Clark Atlanta University in the 1940s. As a 6’6 power forward, DeZonie controlled the paint and was described as a marvelous athlete. Following his college years at CAU, he signed a contract with the New York Renaissance which was an all-black traveling basketball team named after the Harlem Renaissance. By 1948, the New York Renaissance was changed to the Dayton Rens as they joined the newly integrated National Basketball League in which DeZonie averaged 12.4 points per contest in 18 games.
On December 3, 1950, DeZonie inked a deal with the Tri-Cities Blackhawks for the 1950-51 season. However, he quit after just five games because of the hardships of racism and frustrations with the coach. In 2000, the NBA honored DeZonie as one of its black pioneers at a pregame ceremony at Madison Square Garden.
Not to be forgotten, Hank DeZonie is an NBA legend and one of the first four black players in the league. Despite having a short career, DeZonie’s impact can be felt throughout the NBA today in the form of the game’s best players. Henry “Hank’ DeZonie died on January 2, 2009, at the age of 86. As you watch the Hawks the remainder of this season, remember that DeZonie was a player and a person who paved the way for the game as we know it today.