Lloyd played collegiately at West Virginia State College, and was selected in the ninth-round of the 1950 NBA draft by the Washington Capitols. On October 31, 1950, Lloyd became the first African American to play in an NBA game, against the Rochester Royals.
Earl Lloyd was born in Alexandria, Virginia on April 3, 1928. His parents were Theodore Lloyd, Sr. and Daisy Lloyd. His father worked in the coal industry and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. Being a high school standout, Lloyd was named to the All-South Atlantic Conference three times and the All-State Virginia Interscholastic Conference twice. Lloyd did attend a segregated school, but gives gratitude to his family and educators for helping him through the tough times and his success after school. Lloyd was a 1946 graduate of Parker-Grey High School and received a scholarship to play basketball at West Virginia State, home of the Yellow Jackets. In school he was nicknamed "Moon Fixer" because of his size and was known as a defensive specialist.
Lloyd led West Virginia State to two CIAA Conference and Tournament Championships in 1948 and 1949. He was named All-Conference three times (1948–50) and was All-American twice, as named by the Pittsburgh Courier (1949–50). As a senior, he averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds per game, while leading West Virginia State to a second-place finish in the CIAA Conference and Tournament Championship. In 1947–48, West Virginia State was the only undefeated team in the United States.
Nicknamed "The Big Cat", Lloyd was one of three black players to enter the NBA at the same time. It was only because of the order in which the teams' season openers fell that Lloyd was the first to actually play in a game in the NBA scoring six points that Halloween night. The date was October 31, 1950, one day ahead of Cooper of the Boston Celtics and four days before Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton of the New York Knicks. Lloyd played in over 560 games in nine seasons, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound forward averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Lloyd played in only seven games for the Washington Capitols before the team folded on January 9, 1951. He was then drafted into the U.S. Army at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, before the Syracuse Nationals picked him up on waivers. Lloyd served time fighting in the Korean War before coming back to basketball. He then spent six seasons with Syracuse and two with the Detroit Pistons before retiring in 1961.
Lloyd wasn’t impervious to racism while in the NBA. He recalls being refused service multiple times and was even spit on by a fan in Indiana. Lloyd persevered and said that these instances only pushed him and made him play harder.
Lloyd retired ranked 43rd in career scoring with 4,682 points. In the 1953–54 season, Lloyd led the NBA in both personal fouls and disqualifications. His best year was 1955, when he averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds for Syracuse, which beat the Fort Wayne Pistons 4-3 for the NBA title. Lloyd and Jim Tucker were the first African-Americans to play on an NBA championship team.
Lloyd once said; "In 1950, basketball was like a babe in the woods; it didn't enjoy the notoriety that baseball enjoyed." Like Lloyd, Clifton and Cooper had solid but not spectacular careers.
According to Detroit News sportswriter Jerry Green, in 1965 Detroit Pistons General Manager Don Wattrick wanted to hire Lloyd as the team's head coach. It would have made Lloyd the first African-American head coach in American pro sports. Dave DeBusschere was instead named Pistons player–coach. Lloyd was the first African-American assistant coach (1968–70) and second African-American head coach (1971–72) with nine games into the 1972–73 season. He had a record of 22-55 with the Pistons. Lloyd also worked for the Pistons as a scout for five seasons.
After his basketball career, Lloyd worked during the 1970s and 1980s as a job placement administrator for the Detroit public school system. During this time, Lloyd also ran programs for underprivileged children teaching job skills. He served as Community Relations Director for the Bing Group, a Detroit manufacturing company in the 1990s. He retired in 1999 and moved to Tennessee with his wife. He was even approached by a young African-American player who said he was indebted to Lloyd for opening the doors for future generations of black players with Lloyd replying that he owed him absolutely nothing.
Lloyd and his wife, Charlita, have three sons, and four grandchildren. Earl resided in Fairfield Glade, Tennessee, just outside Crossville, until his death in February 2015.
Lloyd was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and the CIAA Hall of Fame in 1998.
In 2003, Lloyd was inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor.
Lloyd was named to the NAIA Silver and Golden Anniversary Teams.
On December 1, 2007, the newly constructed basketball court at T. C. Williams High School in Lloyd's home town of Alexandria, Virginia, was named in his honor. Lloyd actually attended Parker-Gray High School, as Alexandria's schools were racially-segregated at the time. T.C. Williams—the subject of the motion picture Remember the Titans—was created as a combined, desegregated school two decades later.
In November 2009, Moonfixer: The Basketball Journey of Earl Lloyd, was released. Lloyd wrote this biography with Syracuse area writer, Sean Kirst.
In 2015 Lloyd, along with fellow basketball player Alonzo Mourning, was one of eight Virginians honored in the Library of Virginia's "Strong Men & Women in Virginia History" because of his contributions to the sport of basketball.