By Professor Fred Whitted
NORTH CAROLINA — One of the toughest, and touchiest, questions to ask great men is how they would like to be remembered. This is especially tough when you can objectively rattle off several of their best attributes without repeating yourself. When we look at some of the old school coaches, there are a number of them who deserve to have volumes written about them.
Not just as coaches but as men who went far above and beyond their duties on the sidelines. You are also talking about men who toiled behind the fence of racism and segregation during the years of their prime, then, were marginalized by the masses who were still more than happy to draw on their wisdom while pretending to dismiss them.
We have seen this with a lot of the great Black coaches: Eddie Robinson, Clarence “Big House” Gaines, Ed Temple, Dr. LeRoy Walker, and many who followed in their footsteps. The same could be said of Coach John B. McLendon, Jr. While they had revolutionized their respective sports at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), they were not recognized by most of the majority openly.
Few in America think that Alabama’s Bear Bryant knew FAMU’s Jake Gaither. But, the two spoke regularly by phone and Bryant made a number of visits to the FAMU campus to observe what Gaither was doing to win so many games. He also tapped into the wisdom of Eddie Robinson.
Although Adolph Rupp was a racist, he paid a visit to the office of Coach McLendon to discuss the attributes of the fast break. Yes, the great Rupp tapped into the mind of the man who taught the world how to play basketball. He remained among the chorus of white coaches who referred to the “up tempo style” as “nigger ball”, he incorporated some aspect of it into his scheme.
Working with and around greats you try to hang onto everything they say. Try as you might there is much you can miss. On several occasions, I hear reporters, and others, ask Coach McLendon how he wanted to be remembered. There were different versions of the same answer. To be honest, none of them really sank in.
When I tried to recall what he said, I tend to draw a blank. While in the process of putting together my library together I discovered a copy of two of the last notes that I received from Coach McLendon. It would have been easy to miss them. Those notes were destined for the landfill, just on sight alone, had I not recognized his handwriting.
When Coach McLendon liked you, you would get notes in some form of calligraphy. That is what prevented me from tossing that copy of his answer, even though I had not read either of them in ages. When I finally read them, it was clear to me how Coach McLendon wanted to be remembered.
NOTE ONE: As the year 2000 approaches I see already the gathering of “greatest this” and “greatest that”, and we are always left out. “Rewriting history by omission” is today’s writing theme. Writing history out of ignorance is not even recognized. You keep gathering the facts. At least, through at least two of us, the facts will be known.
This was about our efforts to collect information on HBCUs and their sports history. I guess he knew that at some point the light would come on and I would realize that the mantle had been passed many years ago.
NOTE TWO: Fred, Wherever and whenever I am honorably described as the “Father or Godfather of Black Basketball” I appreciate the intent to make me a special person. BUT, my life has been in the fight to make basketball a game for all Americans. You can best describe me better as the “Father of Basketball for all America.” You will understand. JBM.
In his usual modest way, Coach McLendon gave me his answer I could not remember. I would love to stop at the borders of the United States as he did. BUT, as one of the hundreds who attended his funeral, I saw and heard a number of cards and notes from various European countries that thanked him for teaching them how the game should be played.
As in so many cases, Coach McLendon was a man who was still fighting racism that placed him in the Basketball Hall of Fame. In addition to teaching the world how to play the game, he was the first coach to win three consecutive college national championships (NAIA 1957, 1958, 1959).
He won the CIAA twice and the Midwestern Athletic Association four times. As part of the entrance into the NAIA Tournament, he had to win the NAIA Tournament, he had to win the District 29 title which amounted to the Black National Championship. Coach McLendon did so much of basketball.
He was one of the founders of the CIAA Tournament. He was later the first Black to coach a professional team. He took teams to Europe where he taught them how to play the game as it was intended. He won more than 500 games over his 23 years.
As Coach McLendon enters the Hall of Fame on Friday, September 9, I simply remind America of what I have known for years. Coach McLendon was being modest. He perfected the fast-break, which is now referred to as up-tempo basketball before most of today’s coaches were born or had their first coaching jobs.
We know this because that is the style he took to Europe at a time when he was still not being taken serious here in America.
Most white coaches began to fully take notice after the US was beaten by the Russians in the 1972 Olympics.
As author of the Black College Sports Encyclopedia (BCSE) and the LEGACY EDITIONS of the BCSE, I congratulate Coach John B. McLendon, Jr. on his induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Now, he can rest assured that someone besides us know the facts: YOU TAUGHT THE WORLD HOW THE GAME OF BASKETBALL SHOULD BE PLAYED.
Now, Coach Mac has finally made it to Springfield.
NOTE: In honor of the induction of the late John B. McLendon, Jr into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach, Black Heritage Review is offering a rebate of shipping charges ($5.00) for each sports book purchased online by September 9, 2016. This includes all of the book listed under the LEGACY EDITIONS, along with the Black College Sports Encyclopedia, The RAMS HOUSE, and Four Quarters of SOUL. Each of these books sell for $30.00 per copy, plus tax and shipping. While we have to charge state sales take, we will give you a rebate of $5.00 when we ship your book(s). This offer is extended to the first 100 orders made during this time frame. Also, we open this offer to Black Athlete readers.