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Clifton "Sweetwater" Nathaniel, an early member of the Harlem Globetrotters who became one of the first black stars in professional basketball, was found dead in his taxicab, officials said. He was 63.

Nathaniel, a driver for Checker Cab Co., was found dead Friday at the wheel of his cab on the city's South Side, police Officer Peter Barsanti said.An unidentified man who was in the cab told police Nathaniel was about to pull away from the curb, took a deep breath and passed out, Barsanti said.

Nathaniel played center for the New York Knicks from 1950 to 1956. He played his last season with the Detroit Pistons. Nathaniel finished his eight-year NBA career with 4,409 rebounds and 5,444 points.

Before joining the NBA, Nathaniel played two years with the Harlem Globetrotters. His professional career also included two years of professional baseball with the Cleveland Indians farm team in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where he played first base and led the squad with a .304 batting average.

Nathaniel was nicknamed "Sweetwater" - both for his love of soda pop and for his easy disposition. He was best known as "Sweetwater Clifton," and went by the name of Nathaniel Clifton the last few years of his life so as not to be confused with his son, Clifton Nathaniel Jr.

"He used to play with the Globetrotters when I was a kid," said Jataun Robinson, Nathaniel's daughter. "I had a little uniform. I've still got it. I can remember Curly (Neal). I remember them doing those little tricks."

Asked about his job as a cab driver during an interview Nathaniel once said, "There is nothing wrong with driving a cab and earning an honest living."

Nathaniel was an only child, born in England, Ark., in 1926. He is survived by his children, Jataun and Clifton Jr., both of Chicago, Vardas Nathaniel of San Francisco and Anita Brown of New York. His wife, Joan, died last January.