​August 31, 1990: At 67, Sweetwater Clifton Died

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Clifton was interred in the Restvale Cemetery in the Chicago suburb of Alsip.

Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton was a multi-sport athlete best known as one of the 1st African Americans to play in the NBA.

NBA CAREER: On May 24, 1950, Clifton became the 2nd African-American player to sign an NBA contract. He played his first game for the New York Knicks four days after the debut of Washington Capitols’s Earl Lloyd, the first black player to appear in an NBA game.

Already 27 years old when he made his debut, Clifton in his first season helped lead the team to its first-ever appearance in the NBA finals, losing in game seven. During his 8 seasons in the NBA, Clifton averaged 10 points and 9 rebounds per game. He was named to the 1957 NBA All-Star team, scoring 8 points in 23 minutes in the game.

At age 34, at that time, he became the oldest player in NBA history to be named an All-Star.

In 1957, Clifton was part of a multi-player trade between the Knicks and the Detroit Pistons, but after one season in Detroit he retired from basketball. In the summer of 1958, he joined the Detroit Clowns baseball team in the Negro Leagues, along with his former Harlem Globetrotters teammate Reece “Goose” Tatum.

In 1961, he was coaxed out of retirement by the Chicago Majors of the fledgling American Basketball League (ABL). After the league folded at the end of 1962, the 40-year-old Clifton retired permanently.

HONORS:  ?Clifton’s contributions to his community during his sporting career and after his playing days have been recognized by the Associated Black Charities of New York City. They have honored him by naming one of the Black History Maker Awards the Nathaniel ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton Award.

?In 2005, the New York Knicks basketball team renamed their monthly “City Spirit Award” in his honor. The Sweetwater Clifton City Spirit Award is given to a member of the community who goes above and beyond his or her normal duties to make the lives of others in the tri-state area better.

?Clifton, who played softball for the Brown Bombers and Capitol Records team of the “Daddy O” Daylie League, was also inducted into Chicago 16 Inch Softball Hall of Fame.

1 Comment

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