Today, black players compose more than eighty percent of the National Basketball Association’s rosters, providing a strong and valued contribution to professional basketball. In the first half of the twentieth century, however, pro basketball was tainted by racism, as gifted African Americans were denied the opportunity to display their talents. Through in-depth interviews with players, their families, coaches, teammates, and league officials, Ron Thomas tells the largely untold story of what basketball was really like for the first black NBA players, including Hall of Fame inductee Earl Lloyd, early superstars such as Maurice Stokes and Bill Russell, and the league’s first black coaches. They Cleared the Lane is both informative and entertaining, full of anecdotes and little-known history. Not all the stories have happy endings, but this unfortunate truth only emphasizes how much we have gained from the accomplishments of these pioneer athletes.

"They Cleared the Lane is on point and on time. I am deeply touched by this book. . . .Growing up in the '50s exposed me to segregation and prejudice up close. However, it was pale in comparison to what the game’s black pioneers experienced. For their perseverance and dedication, I thank them and honor their journey."

− Hall of Famer Julius Erving

"'They Cleared the Lane' tells us about all those African American greats who never had a chance to show their skills to the public as a whole. It is a story of black courage and white far-sightedness. It faces the issues squarely and honestly. It shows those who were the pathbreakers that we have not forgotten them."

− Bill Bradley, former U.S. Senator and NBA star

"Most long-term NBA fans are aware of the NBA's role at the forefront of sports integration, but Thomas places a very human face on it and points out that there were sacrifices made and risks taken to bring the league to its current position as the world's top professional sports attraction."

− Booklist

"They Cleared the Lane: The NBA's Black Pioneers, by Ron Thomas, came out one year ago this month, and the world shrugged. But it should have smiled. At least the sports world should have. Historians should have. And people who love basketball should have smiled and said, 'Thank you, Ron. Thanks for your journey, your persistence, your insights, your kindness.' . . . There is so much information in this book that you can start anywhere and just read a few pages and then stop and think for a while. . . . The experience, Thomas says, was 'the longest, most significant adventure of my life.' Sports fans should know what he unearthed. Everyone should know how he did it."

− Rick Telander, Chicago Sun-Times

"Thomas's is probably one of the two or three best books about professional basketball ever read by this reviewer. The compelling narrative will hold every reader's interest. . . . This book is important not just for basketball fans but for those who want to understand the role played by African Americans in the development of the NBA and big-time sports today."

− Library Journal

"Thomas. . . . has written a fascinating book about the African-American basketball players who never had a chance to display their talents in the first half of the 20th century. . . . The author treats readers to an exceptional insiders view, providing in-depth interviews with players, their families, their coaches, and their teammates."

− Choice

"San Francisco Examiner sportswriter Thomas debuts with a . . . detailed history of the integration of the National Basketball Association. . . . A good introduction to the men who revolutionized the NBA."

− Kirkus Reviews