BASN’s Black History Sports Spotlight

By Tony McClean
Updated: February 2, 2005
John McClendon

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — One of the nation’s oldest college basketball tournaments will return to Charlotte, North Carolina later next week. The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association or CIAA, was founded in 1912.

The basketball tournament was started in 1946 and was the brainchild of several CIAA coaches, including basketball pioneer and North Carolina Central University (then North Carolina College) coach John McClendon.

McClendon guided the Eagles to the first two conference tournament titles and is widely recognized as a father of modern basketball.

Born on April 5, 1915 in Hiawatha, Kansas, McClendon’s engaging personality made him a popular basketball figure for more than 60 years. His extraordinary knowledge of basketball history made him one of the game’s leading ambassadors.

He learned basketball from Dr. James Naismith as an undergraduate at Kansas and was the first coach in history to win three consecutive national titles. McClendon earned that honor by guiding Tennessee State to the 1957, 1958 and 1959 NAIA national championships.

His teams featured superior conditioning, a patented fast break offense and an aggressive in-your-face defensive attitude. McClendon supported the heightened awareness of basketball at all-Black colleges, and helped initiate an era of integrated basketball.

He proved his basketball style was ahead of the game when his Eagles used the fast break to beat Duke University by 40 points in a secret game in the late 1940s on N.C. Central’s campus.

McClendon’s well-rounded coaching background included positions at the collegiate, AAU and professional level. He also coached collegiately at Hampton Institute, Kentucky State and Cleveland State along with the Cleveland Pipers (NIB-ABL) and the Denver Rockets (ABA).

His teams won a combined 523 games and McClendon himself compiled a 76 percent winning mark over his 25-year career. Named the 1958 NAIA Coach of the Year, McClendon coached teams that won eight CIAA titles between 1941 and 1952, the NIBL and AAU championships in 1961, and the ABL Eastern Division crown in 1962.

McClendon traveled the world promoting basketball and wrote two books, “Fast Break Basketball” and “The Fast Break Game.” McClendon, a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame was enshrined into the Helms Hall of Fame and the CIAA Hall of Fame.

In 1992, the basketball arena at Cleveland State was named in McClendon’s honor. He died on October 8, 1999.

NOTE: The African-American Registry contributed to this story.