Monday, April 20, 2015

a man, a coach

A book about one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time: Breaking Through: John B. McLendon, Basketball Legend and Civil Rights Pioneer, by Milton S. Katz.

McLendon was mentored by the inventor of the game of basketball, Dr. James Naismith, at the University of Kansas, even though he wasn't even allowed to play for the Jayhawks. This was the 1930s, and there would be no black players on the KU varsity team until 1951.

In 1937, McLendon became an assistant coach at North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University), and was named the head basketball coach there in 1940. He went on to coach at the Hampton Institute, Tennessee A&I University (now Tennessee State University), Kentucky State College (now Kentucky State University), and Cleveland State University. His Tennessee A&I teams won three consecutive NAIA championships (1957, 1958, 1959). At Cleveland State, he became the first black coach at a predominantly white college. He later became the first black coach of an integrated professional sports team (the ABL's Cleveland Pipers),

Always conducting himself with class and quiet dignity, battling segregation and discrimination every step of the way, McLendon pioneered a fast-breaking style of basketball; as well, as Katz notes in Breaking Through, when McLendon passed away in 1999:

The first floral arrangements to reach his home came from North Carolina coach Dean Smith, who expressed gratitude to McLendon for teaching him the four-corners offense.

What impressed me most, however, was that McLendon spoke about basketball and athletics as being secondary to the greater goal: "Athletics is a vehicle to assist in scholastic objectives and education... A man should want to go to school and participate in athletics, not just be an athlete."

I like to say that sports should be about having fun and staying in shape. These days, it often seems to be more of an entertainment industry than anything else.

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