October 13, 1922|
Little Rock, Arkansas
|Died||August 31, 1990
|Listed height||6 ft 8 in (2.03 m)|
|Listed weight||225 lb (102 kg)|
|High school||DuSable (Chicago, Illinois)|
|College||Xavier (Louisiana) (1942-1943)|
|Position||Center / Forward|
|Number||19, 8, 24|
|1945-1947||New York Rens|
|1950-1956||New York Knicks|
|1956-1957||Fort Wayne Pistons|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NBA statistics|
|Points||5,444 (10.0 ppg)|
|Rebounds||4,469 (8.2 rpg)|
|Assists||1,367 (2.5 apg)|
|Stats at Basketball-Reference.com|
|Basketball Hall of Fame as player|
Nathaniel "Sweetwater"Clifton (born Clifton Nathaniel; October 13, 1922 - August 31, 1990) was an American multi-sport athlete best known as one of the first African Americans to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Born in England, Arkansas, Clifton claimed to have been given the "Sweetwater" nickname as a boy because of his love of soft drinks. His family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he became an outstanding basketball and baseball player at DuSable High School, graduating in 1942. He attended Xavier University of Louisiana and then served with the United States Army for three years, fighting in Europe during World War II.
After the war, Clifton joined the New York Rens, an all-black professional basketball team that toured throughout the United States. Noted for his large hands, which required a size 14 glove, he was invited to join the Harlem Globetrotters, for whom he played from the summer of 1948 to the spring of 1950. Still a talented baseball first baseman, during the basketball off-season in 1949 Clifton played for the Chicago American Giants in Negro League baseball. By 1950, his performance with the Globetrotters, in particular his exceptional ball-handling ability, led to his signing a contract with an NBA team.
On April 25, 1950 the 1950 NBA draft was held; Clifton became the first African-American player to be drafted by the NBA before Chuck Cooper second and Earl Lloyd, (May 24) the third to sign an NBA contract after Harold Hunter (April 26), who was cut in training camp. He played his first game for the New York Knicks on November 4, four days after the debut of Washington Capitols player 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 eight 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, 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 Fort Wayne 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.
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.