Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton Inducted Into Hall of Fame

NBA trail blazer recognized for place in game's history

Clifton's Knicks teammate, Willie Naulls, had the following words to say about the 2014 Hall of Fame inductee:

Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton was a giant of a man physically who was as gentle, compassionate and empathic as anyone I met during my professional basketball career. He was a pioneer in the integration of the NBA and his intestinal fortitude paved the way for those of us who would follow, even when he had little power of voice and choice. When I was traded to the Knicks three months into my NBA career, “Sweets” welcomed me with open arms and we discussed what it had meant to be the only, or one of the few, African-American in the league – him with the Knicks and me with the St. Louis Hawks.

He had enormous hands and great strength. I remember thinking that no handshake had ever engulfed my hand as did his. He was an conscientious and effective rebounder in that he demanded space under the basket and rarely relinquished an inch to take full advantage of his 6‘6” 220# muscular frame. Our teammates loved him because he was recognized as the strongest man in the league whom no one wanted to encounter in a confrontation. He never sought his own glory in scoring and fit smoothly into the Knicks’ slow-down, pick-and-roll offense.

It does my heart good to know that Sweets is finally being recognized by the Hall of Fame as one of the pioneers who paved the way while giving little confrontation within an institutional system which was not structured to include empathy for who he was as an individual. He was a great ambassador for Martin Luther King’s non-violent movement before it wore that name.

Some background on how Clifton's legacy lives on with the Knicks:

For the 9th year, the New York Knickerbockers will sponsor the Sweetwater Clifton City Spirit Award, which honors local heroes who have made a significant difference in the lives of others. Winners will be recognized at center court of Madison Square Garden on a monthly basis throughout the 2014-15 Knicks season. The New York Knicks will make a $2,000 donation to the recipient’s charity of choice. The award is named in honor of the late Knicks great, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, who was the first African-American to play for the Knickerbockers. 

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