Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton, a Xavier standout in the 1940s and an NBA pioneer nearly 60 years ago, will be inducted Friday into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame at Springfield, Massachusetts.
Clifton, selected as a contributor to the sport, is the first from Xavier player to earn induction. He is one of 10 inductees this year. The others are Gary Williams, Alonzo Mourning, Nolan Richardson, Mitch Richmond, Bob Leonard, Nat Clifton, Sarunas Marciulionis, Guy Rodgers, David Stern and the Immaculata University’s AIAW national championship teams of the early 1970s.
A right-handed power forward listed from 6-foot-6 to 6-9 on various online sites, Clifton was one of a handful of African-Americans to integrate the NBA in the 1950-51 season.
Clifton scored 16 points for the New York Knicks in his NBA debut on Nov. 4, 1950 — he was 28 years old at the time — and played eight seasons in the league, all but one with the Knicks.
In 544 NBA games, Clifton averaged 10.0 points and 8.2 He was a member of NBA runner-up teams each of his first three seasons.
Clifton was a standout player in Chicago at DuSable High School and enrolled at Xavier in the fall of 1942. He spent just one academic year at Xavier before enrolling in the Army during World War II. But his basketball impact at XU was great. Clifton led the Gold Rush in 1942-43 to a 15-3 record and a berth in the championship game of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament, where Xavier lost 43-42 to South Carolina State.