John was a major influence in the Chicago IL area for Converse Rubber. The respect and contributions he earned as a player and coach gave him the ability to pick up the phone and convince a coach to wear Converse footwear.
John B. McLendon, Jr. (April 15, 1915 – October 8, 1999) was an American basketball coach. Born in Hiawatha, Kansas, McLendon was an all-around athlete who chose basketball as his favorite sport. He studied in the 1930s at the University of Kansas, where he learned the intricacies of basketball from the sport’s inventor, Dr. James Naismith. He did not actually play college basketball, as the KU varsity team did not accept African Americans at the time, and would not suit up its first black player until 1951.
He went onto to become a successful high school and college coach, at schools such as North Carolina College, the Hampton Institute, Tennessee State A&I University, Kentucky State College, and Cleveland State University. While at North Carolina College, McLendon participated in The Secret Game, the first collegiate basketball contest where blacks and whites competed on the same floor. 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 George Steinbrenner hired him to be the head coach for the Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League. 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.
Notwithstanding McLendon’s coaching legacy and its impact on the game of basketball, he was only 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 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.