Describing how the legendary late Lewis “Black Magic” Lloyd played basketball is easy.
Whether he was leading Overbrook High School against arch rival West Philadelphia High, becoming a national sensation at Drake University or going against eventual Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famers such as Earvin “Magic” Johnson and George “Iceman” Gervin, Lloyd’s game remained the same — fluid.
Watching him play was akin to turning on a spigot and seeing water flow freely in a basin. Lloyd could control his tempo. He could drip one second and gush a moment later.
Lloyd wasn’t muscularly-built but he refused to be overpowered. He wasn’t a prolific jumper but his leaping ability was never questioned.
Lloyd wasn’t the fastest player on the court but he was rarely beaten running baseline to baseline. His defensive play wasn’t flawless but he could shut down an opponent. His shot wasn’t perfect but it seemingly always went through the hoop. His euro-step move to the basket wasn’t impeccable but it definitely was immaculate.
Lloyd did it all without sweating profusely and always with a smile. He would flash those pearly-colored dentures and the contrast was perfect with his dark ebony hue.
Lloyd, who was 60 when he died on July 5 of what the Medical Examiner’s Office said was “accidental drug intoxication,” was a legend. On Friday, there will be a celebration of life fish fry fundraiser in his honor at Cafe Breezes, 5131 W. Columbia Ave., from 3 to 8 p.m. It will give friends and acquaintances an opportunity to reminiscence about his exploits.
On Saturday at Vine Memorial Baptist Church, 5600 W. Girard Ave., the world will formally say goodbye to Lloyd during a funeral service at 11 a.m. A viewing will be held at 10 a.m.
Lloyd was sweeter than honey on and off the court. His demeanor demanded and commanded respect. He was a special person who seemingly never met a person he couldn’t win over.
“I’m going to miss him,” said former teammate, mentor and friend John Lucas.
The former Philadelphia 76ers general manager and coach, who tried to help Lloyd with a substance abuse problem, says he will always remember him.
“He was special,” said Lucas, who had recently been in touch with Lloyd. “One thing about Lew, he wouldn’t rob, cheat or steal from you. He was a stand-up person with an enormous amount of talent.”
The talent Lucas talked about was evident early on. Lloyd was a playground legend whose game was so good that he’s actually been mentioned in a few books on basketball.
At Overbrook, his reputation grew like a weed. He showed flashes of what he was capable of doing. Perhaps his biggest flash came in 1977 when Overbrook played West Philadelphia at then Sayre Junior High. West Philadelphia had the number one team in the country and the number one recruited player in Gene Banks.
Before a standing room only crowd, some of whom had paid more than $100 for a scalped ticket, Lloyd and Banks put on a show that is still talked about. The Speedboys, behind a 32-points, 18-rebounds performance by Banks, won 83-72. West Philadelphia coach Joe Goldenberg made no substitutions in the game.
But it was the play of Lloyd that had the crowd buzzing. He collected 34 points, 24 rebounds and five blocked shots. He was only 6-foot-4, but Lloyd won all four jump balls against the 6-foot-7 Banks. At times, it appeared as though Lloyd was battling three players because West’s frontcourt also featured 6-foot-6 senior Joe Garrett and 6-foot-7 junior Clarence “Eggy” Tillman.
Academically, Lloyd was a 10th grader but it wasn’t because he didn’t have an aptitude for education. After basketball season, he was a no-show at Overbrook. The late Bob Black, a Philadelphia Police officer, knew someone at New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, New Mexico — yes the same place that is famous for its extraterrestrial connection. Black’s recommendation helped gain Lloyd admission.
Persuading him to leave Philadelphia for New Mexico wasn’t easy but Lloyd gambled and took the option. It meant changing his lifestyle. It turned out to be a wise move. He went to New Mexico Military Institute, earned his GED and suddenly found himself highly in demand by Division I schools.
Lloyd decision to attend Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, turned out to be a better move than his euro-step.
As a 6-foot-6 junior, Lloyd averaged 30.2 points and 15 rebounds a game. He was the country’s most prolific scorer and its second-best rebounder. After sustaining an off-season ankle injury, Lloyd came back to average 26.3 points and 10 rebounds as a senior.
A two-time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in 1980 and 1981, Lloyd graduated from Drake. The school has since retired his No. 30 jersey, which hangs in the rafters at the Knapp Center.
Lloyd, a fourth-round draft pick of the Golden State Warriors in 1981, played seven season in the NBA. After two years with the Warriors, he signed with the Houston Rockets where he became a star.
In 1986, he and teammate Mitchell Wiggins, whose son Andrew was the first overall choice of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014 NBA Draft, were banned for 2½ years after testing positive for cocaine.
A player can be reinstated only with the approval of both the NBA and the players’ association. Lloyd and Wiggins were reinstated in September 1989. Ironically, both ended their NBA careers with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Lloyd had been associated with rehab programs run by Lucas and Jayson Williams, a former Sixer who served five years in prison after he accidentally shot and killed a limousine driver in 2002.
Since retiring, Lloyd had been a fixture at basketball clinics throughout the country. He also became a licensed vendor and operated a vibrant goods stand on 52nd Street near Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia.
“He was a great spirit,” Lucas said. “I’d say he was a misunderstood soul. He was a friend. He was a hard worker. He earned everything. Nothing was given to him.
“He was someone who loved people and people loved him. He was very likeable. Lewis Lloyd was a good person who will be missed by many people.”