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Celtics Start NBA’s First All Black Team December 26, 1964

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NBA.com
Celtics Start All Black Team December 26, 1964

Call it a quota, call it a gentlemen’s agreement, call it what you like. Before December 26, 1964, five Black players wearing the same uniform had never taken the court for the start of an NBA game.

That night in St. Louis, Willie Naulls replaced the injured Tommy Heinsohn, and the Celtics had an all Black starting five, for the first time in the history of the NBA.

An all Black starting team would have been an impossibility until the start of the 1963-1964 season, when the Celtics broke the gentlemen’s agreement (or whatever it was) and acquired Naulls from The San Francisco Warriors. The other starters for the Celtics in 1963-1964 and 1964-1965, were Satch Sanders, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, and Bill Russell.

The “experiment” got off to a less than auspicious start as Boston fell behind the Hawks by 15 points in the first quarter. The Celtics came back, but the Hawks still led by 10 at the end of the second period. The rest of the game however, was all Boston. The Celtics outscored St. Louis 48-25 in the second half, and went on to win by a score of 97-84. Boston won the next 11 games, with Naulls starting in place of Heinsohn.

Celtics coach Red Auerbach claimed to have been completely oblivious
about having anything to do with anything historic, and said he wasn’t aware of what he had done until a writer pointed it out to him a few weeks later. The event also went unreported in the press.

Another piece of unreported trivia, was that for those 12 games, in addition to their five Black starters, the Celtics had an all White bench.

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