A giant has passed.
Diminuitive legendary basketball coach John B. McLendon, a pioneer,supreme innovator and thinker, a consummate gentleman and one of the men whowaged the successful fight to break down barriers of segregation in collegeand professional athletics, died Thursday in Cleveland, Ohio where he hadbeen residing and teaching a class at Cleveland State University.
Coach McLendon seated courtside at this year's CIAA Tournament in Winston-Salem.
Bobby Parker Photo
On the day of his passing, he spoke with colleagues about his mostrecent passion, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)Heritage Museum and Hall of Fame which recently secured buildings in Durham,North Carolina. The museum and hall are to be lasting memorials forathletes, coaches, administrators and other black college graduates who havemade significant contributions to the nation. His place there is secure.
|Resources 2000 History Note|
|A Listing of Coach McLendon's accomplishments|
On the court, he was the first coach to win three straight nationaltitles when he led his 1957, '58 and '59 Tennessee A&I (now Tennessee State)teams featuring Dick Barnett and John Barnhill, to consecutive NAIAchampionships. McLendon's team had to defeat all the other black collegepowers, essentially winning the black college championship, before gainingaccess to the NAIA national tournament. Over the years, he and otherslobbied successfully to end the practice leading to black college teamsentering the tournament through regions just as the other schools did. Thesuccess of his teams and other black college squads eventually spurred themore blatantly racist NCAA to open its championships to black colleges.
He was among the founders of the Central Intercollegiate AthleticAssociation basketball tournament that began in 1945 and has grown into oneof the largest, most anticipated and well attended black events in thenation. He was a founding member of the National Athletic Steering Committe(NASC) in 1951 that devised strategies to combat segregation anddiscrimination in college athletics and was a forerunner of the present-dayBlack Coaches Association. In 1950, he escorted West Virginia State's EarlHunter and NCC's Harold Hunter to tryouts with the NBA's Washington Caps.The Hunters became the first blacks to sign NBA contracts, three days beforethe Boston Celtics signed Chuck Cooper of Duquesne. In 1961, McLendon becamethe first black coach in the old Industrial League when he took over theCleveland Pipers and in 1969 became the first black coach in theprofessional ranks when he guided the Denver Nuggets of the old ABA. Hecoached international teams on trips to Russia, Europe and the Orient, madeseveral videos outlining his basketball concepts and lectured throughout thecountry.
In compiling a 523-165 career record, McLendon established himself asone of the greatest minds in the history of the game. Among therevolutionary concepts that he made a part of the game are the full courtpress, the zone press and the "two in one out" later known as the fourcorners offense.In stints at TSU, North Carolina College (now North CarolinaCentral University), Kentucky State, Hampton and Cleveland State, his teamswere pioneers in up-tempo basketball often scoring over 100 points per game,and his teams were always the most well-conditioned. While at NCC, he coached Celtic great Sam Jones. One of his mostcherished accomplishments was that in 38 years of coaching he never receivedone technical foul.
In 1960 in Dayton, Ohio, he coached a team of amateurs to an upset ofthe U. S. Olympic team led by all-Americans Oscar Robertson and Jerry West.It is the only time an amateur team has defeated an Olympic squad.
But his on-court glory and basketball genius was just part of thisbrilliant man. He labored tirelessly to not only make sure black collegeteams could participate in national tournaments, but fought eqully hard forequal access off the court. He refused to bring his Tennessee State team tothe 1954 NAIA tournament in Kansas City unless they could stay in the samedowntown hotels that the predominantly white schools used.
He is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and seven otherHalls of Fame and has unquestionably earned the title of "Coach of theCentury."
He is survived by his wife Joanna and four children. Funeralarrangements are pending and are being handled by E. F. Boyd Funeral Home inWarrenville Heights, OH. (216-831-7906).