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*Val James was born on this date in 1957. He is a former Black National Hockey League left winger and defenseman.
Valmore Curtis James was born in Ocala, Florida, and raised in Hauppauge, New York. He is one of six children. James began skating and playing ice hockey in Commack, New York, where his father was an ice rink manager.
The Detroit Red Wings drafted James in the 16th round in the 1977 NHL Entry Draft after playing two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. However, he never played in any regulation games for the Red Wings. He also played several seasons, in the late 1970s, for the Erie Blades, in the Eastern Hockey League (EHL). James's tendency for using hip checks garnered notoriety in the Erie County Field House, home of the Blades.
He signed with the Buffalo Sabres on July 22, 1981. He made his NHL debut for the Sabres playing seven games. James became the first native-born African American to play in the NHL when he debuted with the Sabres. He was also the first native-born Floridian to play in the NHL. James' next NHL stint came in the 1986–87 NHL season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, playing four games.
As an African American, James often faced situations at all levels of his career. He was the victim of incidents of racial prejudice from opposing fans and, sometimes, opposing players. On the ice, James became revered for his fighting ability. Spirited bouts and victories over noted enforcers Terry O'Reilly and John Kordic were part of his record.
After retirement, he taught hockey for ten years and settled in the Niagara Region with his wife. His autobiography Black Ice: The Val James Story was released by ECW Press for worldwide distribution in February 2015, coinciding with Black History Month. In January 2017, ECW Press re-released the book in paperback format, again coinciding with Black History Month. Valmore Curtis James has a strong presence on The NHL Black Legacy Mobile Museum Truck.
James has said, "I feel I have opened a few doors for guys that might not have gotten that chance later on in their careers. So, to be able to do something like that for someone, whether it be my race or someone else's race, it's just a nice thing to do."