April 5, 1915|
|Died||October 8, 1999
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
|Coaching career (HC unless noted)|
|North Carolina College for Negroes
Tennessee State A&I University
Cleveland Pipers (ABL)
Kentucky State College
Cleveland State University
Denver Rockets (ABA)
|Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1979
|College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2007
John B. McLendon, Jr. (April 5, 1915 – October 8, 1999) was a pioneering American basketball coach who is recognized as the first African American basketball coach at a predominantly white university and the first African American head coach in any professional sport. He was a major contributor to the development of modern basketball and coached on both the college and professional levels during his career. He is enshrined in both the Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
Born in Hiawatha, Kansas to John Blanche McLendon, Sr. (June 24, 1882 – October 15, 1973), a college teacher, and Effie Katherine McLendon (née Hunn) (1886 – 1918), one of his students at Washburn University.1 McLendon was part African American and part Delaware Indian from his mother's side.2 His mother died in the 1918 flu pandemic3 which would lead to the temporary break-up of his family. John and his younger brother Arthur were sent to be with his Delaware Indian grandparents on a ranch near Trinidad, Colorado while his older sister, Anita, was sent to be with an aunt in Omaha, Nebraska, and his younger sister, Elsie, was sent to be with other relatives, but would end up with a foster family on a ranch in Idaho.3 John would not see his younger sister again for 45 years, but the rest of the family were reunited after his father remarried in 1921 to Minnie E. Jackson, a school teacher in Kansas City, Missouri.
The family settled in Kansas City, Kansas, where John would first go to Dunbar elementary school and later Sumner High School.4 John became enamored with the sport of basketball while on a field trip from Dunbar elementary to the new Northeast junior high school4 in Kansas City, Kansas, where he saw his first official basketball court. He soon became an all-around athlete at Sumner high school who chose basketball as his favorite sport, although he failed to make the basketball team at Sumner instead he lettered in gymnastics and was the basketball team manager.4
After high school, he first attended Kansas City Kansas Junior College where he finally made the basketball team.4 The team went undefeated although John only played sparingly. After one year at Kansas City Kansas Junior College he then transferred to the University of Kansas, where he learned the intricacies of basketball from the sport's inventor, Dr. James Naismith, who was the athletic director at the school.2 However, McLendon was not permitted to actually play college basketball, as the KU varsity team was segregated and would not suit up its first black player until 1951.5
He went on to become a successful high school and college coach, at schools such as North Carolina College for Negroes, the Hampton Institute, Tennessee State A&I University, Kentucky State College and Cleveland State University. In his early years, his teams were restricted to playing only against other all-black teams. However, while coaching at North Carolina College, McLendon participated in "The Secret Game", a match against a team from Duke University, which was the first collegiate basketball contest where blacks and whites competed on the same floor.6 He led the Eagles to 8 CIAA Championships (1941, 1943–44, 1946–47, 1949–50, 1952).7 McLendon's teams were credited with increasing the pace of the game of basketball from the slow tempo of its early years to the faster tempo that prevails today.2
He was a three-time winner of the NAIA Coach of the Year award and won three consecutive NAIA championships at Tennessee State, making him the first college basketball coach ever to have won three consecutive national titles.8 When he was hired at Cleveland State in 1966, he became the first African American basketball coach ever at a predominantly white university.9
McLendon also coached professionally on two occasions. Cleveland Pipers General Manager Mike Cleary hired him in 1962 to be the head coach of the American Basketball League team which was owned by George Steinbrenner. McLendon's hiring made history, as he became the first African American head coach in professional sports. In his, and the Pipers', only season in the ABL, partway through the season he quit or was fired (sources differ). McLendon was replaced as coach by Bill Sharman of the recently-defunct Los Angeles Jets of the ABL; under Sharman, the team completed the season and won the league championship. McLendon went on to coach the American Basketball Association's Denver Rockets (which later became the Denver Nuggets of the NBA) in 1969, although he was fired after the team started the season 9-19. Despite the fact that he was only 54 when dismissed, this was the last college or professional head coaching job in his career.
Like Naismith, McLendon was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979 as a "contributor", but not as a coach.10 He was, however, selected in 2007 for the second entering class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame for his coaching achievements.11 He was also inducted into the Cleveland State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007, where his wife Joanna accepted the award on his behalf.
A biography of John B. McLendon, Breaking Through: John B. McLendon, Basketball Legend and Civil Rights Pioneer, by Milton S. Katz, was published in 2007. McLendon's coaching legacy is also chronicled in the documentary Black Magic, which originally aired as a two-part series on ESPN in March 2008.2
The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics sponsors the John McLendon Minority Scholarship Foundation, which offers postgraduate scholarships to minority students studying athletics administration. The foundation was formed under the directorship of Mike Cleary, who hired McLendon as head coach of the Cleveland Pipers in 1962 as the first African American head coach in professional sports.
|Cleveland State (Independent) (1966–1969)|
- Katz, Milton S. (2010). Breaking Through: John B. McLendon, Basketball Legend and Civil Rights Pioneer. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-1557289513.
- Aaron Barnhart, Black Magic: Only the lines were white, TV Barn, March 14, 2008. Retrieved on Jan. 20, 2010.
- Katz, Milton S. (2010). Breaking Through: John B. McLendon, Basketball Legend and Civil Rights Pioneer. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. pp. 4–5. ISBN 978-1557289513.
- Katz, Milton S. (2010). Breaking Through: John B. McLendon, Basketball Legend and Civil Rights Pioneer. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-1557289513.
- Woolf, Alexander (2002). Big Game, Small World: A Basketball Adventure. New York: Warner Books. p. 141. ISBN 0-446-52601-0.
- Ellsworth, Scott (1996-03-31). "Sunday March 31, 1996: JIM CROW LOSSES; The Secret Game". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- Woolf, Big Game, Small World, p. 142.
- Woolf, Big Game, Small World, pp. 142–43.
- Basketball Hall of Fame biography: John McLendon
- "Arkansas hires coach; Bubas elected to Hall". Associated Press. 2007-04-03. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-04-27.