Perry Wallace, the SEC's first black basketball player, dies on the eve of being recognized for his role in integrating the league. Wallace made his historic debut for Vanderbilt fifty years ago. Perry Wallace (25) of the Vanderbilt Commodores in play during the 1967 season. Malcolm Emmons-Twitter, USA TODAY Sports
He played one game as a freshman and scored six points before suffering a knee injury that ended his career early. Wallace's number has been retired by Vanderbilt.
In addition to Wallace, there have been several other black players in the SEC history. James White and Willie Smith were both star guards at Alabama in the 1950s. They are the only two blacks to have their numbers retired by the school. Neither one of them played at Vanderbilt. John Robic is the only other Vandy player who is included in the SEC Hall of Fame. He was a forward who spent one season with the Commodores in 1969-70. He had three points off of two rebounds in four minutes of action against Southern Methodist in his lone game for Vandy.
There have been several other black players who have appeared in the SEC over the years but they never played for a varsity team. They include Rod Strickland, Muggsy Bogues, Darnell Hillman, Calvin O'Neal, and DeSagana Diop. Some of them even earned All-SEC honors.
Harrison Fitch, the team's first African American player, was controversially benched by coach John Heldman for a 1934 game against the US Coast Guard Academy. Hugh Greer, a former player at Connecticut Agricultural College, returned to his old school as a freshmen coach after graduation. He persuaded the head coach, Ike Harris, to let him play in a game against Hartford. The young Harrison Fitch was the only black player on the court, and he had a great game with 22 points and 12 rebounds. After the game, the referees gave Greer a technical foul and disqualified him from further participation in the game, which caused an uproar among fans and players alike. After this incident, Harris suspended Fitch for one game (he never returned to the court). It is not known whether or not he ever apologized to Fitch for suspending him. After one season away from UConn, Greer graduated from UCA and took over the coaching job there part-time while continuing to work with UConn during the off-season. In 1937, he became the first black coach in the nation when he led the Chicago Transit Authority to a National Basketball Association title. He later worked with several other NBA teams before retiring in 1950 at the age of 42. During his time with UConn, the Huskies played against Greer's former team, UCA, twice. The schools are nearly identical in size and location, so they were often divided up by conference members to help them stay within their overall playing time limit.
Charles Henry Cooper (September 29, 1926 – February 5, 1984) was a professional basketball player in the United States. In 1950, he and two others, Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton and Earl Lloyd, were the NBA's first African-American players. .. Playoffs
Chamberlain was one of 37 black players in the league that season, with the NBA beginning integration of blacks in 1950. Since their debut, the NBA game has become quicker and higher up on the rim [debate]. That's why today there are so few players who can match up with modern-day stars like LeBron James or Kevin Durant.
Another reason is that former athletes tend to be bigger than current ones (for better or worse). Chamberlain was a 7' 1" tall player who used his body to dominate opponents on both ends of the court. Today, most players are closer to 6' 0" or 6' 1", which makes it harder to find people large enough to make a difference at the professional level.
The last factor is technology. In the 1950s, there were no rules against using elbows or knees to defend against shots from beyond the arc. This allowed big men such as Chamberlain to protect the basket by throwing their bodies over the ball or kicking it out. These days, such actions would get you called for a foul.
In conclusion, there have been very few black players in the NBA because it's hard to find people big enough to make a difference.