Moments in TSU History: McLendon's Court
Friday, July 24, 2020
Moments in TSU History: McLendon's Court

Remembering one of the winningest coaches in Tennessee State athletic history.

John B. McLendon, Jr. (April 15, 1915 - October 8, 1999) is noted as one of the most successful high school and college coaches in the sport of basketball.

McLendon coached at schools such as Tennessee State A&I University, North Carolina College, the Hampton Institute, Kentucky State College, and Cleveland State University.

While at North Carolina College, McLendon coached in the "Secret Game", the first collegiate basketball contest where blacks and whites competed on the same floor (North Carolina College and Duke).

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. When he was hired at Cleveland State in 1966, he became the first African American basketball coach ever at a predominantly white university.

McLendon also coached professionally, when Cleveland Pipers General Manager, Mike Cleary hired him 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 league, the team captured the league championship. McLendon later went on to coach the American Basketball Association's Denver Rockets.

TSU thought so highly of McLendon that the school dedicated its basketball court to the legendary coach in 1992 when the Tigers hosted Eastern Kentucky.

McLendon was first inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a "contributor", not as a coach. He was, however, selected in 2007 for the second entering class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame for his coaching achievements. He was also inducted into the Tennessee State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1983 and 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.