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Breaking Through

John B. McLendon, Basketball Legend and Civil Rights Pioneer

Milton S. Katz

Publication Year: 2007

John B. McLendon was the last living protégé of basketball’s inventor, Dr. James Naismith, and one of the “top ten basketball coaches of the century” in Billy Packer’s opinion. McLendon’s amazing records in college and pro basketball earned him a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame (the first black coach to be inducted), and his coaching philosophy has had a huge influence on basketball coaches. Breaking Through is also a powerful and inspirational story about segregation and a champion’s struggle for equality in 1940s and 50s America.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

After leading Georgetown to the national championship in 1984, John Thompson was asked if he was proud to be the first African American to coach a team to the crown. His answer was brilliant: “If I am a pioneer in 1984 it is only...

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Foreword / Preface

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pp. xiii-xvii

In 1999, I gave a eulogy for my adopted brother, John B. McLendon Jr. John’s death was a tremendous loss to his family, his friends, the game of basketball, and myself. My grandfather Dr. James A. Naismith, the inventor...

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pp. xix-xx

In the course of researching and writing this book, I benefited from the help and cooperation of many individuals. Every one of the more than sixty people I interviewed not only spoke lovingly about John McLendon...

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pp. xxi-xxii

On the morning of September 2, 1999, an impeccably dressed, diminutive, slender, eighty-four-year-old African American man sat on the stage poised to speak to the freshman class at the B. N. Duke Auditorium at North Carolina Central...

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1. A Kansas Childhood and the Love of the Game, 1915–33

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pp. 1-9

John B. McLendon Jr. was born April 5, 1915, in Hiawatha, Kansas, to Effie Kathryn Hunn and John B. McLendon. His father was born in 1882 in Ansonville, North Carolina, of mixed parentage. McLendon’s grandparents on his father’s side...

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2. The University of Kansas and Dr. James Naismith, 1933–36

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pp. 11-23

Although McLendon wished to enroll at Springfield College in Massachusetts, where Dr. James Naismith had invented the game of basketball in 1891, this was the Depression, and his family did not have the money to send him...

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3. Establishing a Tradition of Excellence: North Carolina College, 1937–52

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pp. 25-57

Upon graduation from the master’s program at Iowa, McLendon was offered his first full-time coaching job at Kansas Vocational School near Topeka. After his first month as basketball coach, he went to the principal with a request for a contract...

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4. A Pioneer for Integration: The National Basketball Association and the National Athletic Steering Committee, 1950–53

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pp. 59-73

Extensive scholarship by social historians documents how World War II acted as a catalyst for social change in American life. Among the most important changes brought on by the war was the push toward an integrated society, which inspired...

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5. Groundbreaking Championship Years at Tennessee A&I State University, 1954–59

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pp. 75-110

The NAIA intercollegiate basketball tournament is the world’s oldest and largest. According to Dick Mackey of the Kansas City Star, it began in Kansas City’s newly completed Municipal Auditorium in 1937, when Emil Liston, athletic director...

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6. Blazing New Trails: The Cleveland Pipers, 1959–62

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pp. 111-147

After his Tennessee A&I Tigers won their third consecutive national title in 1959, McLendon chose to confront an equally significant challenge. Not satisfied with his historic three straight national college championships, he had his eyes on a bigger...

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7. Back to the College Game: Kentucky State College and Cleveland State University, 1963–69

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pp. 149-168

At the conclusion of the 1961–62 season, McLendon was asked by the U.S. State Department to go to Southeast Asia as part of a cultural exchange program to teach basketball at two universities. He traveled to Malaya (now Malaysia) and Indonesia...

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8. The First Black Coach in the American Basketball Association: The Denver Rockets, 1969

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pp. 169-179

The proposition Varnell had for the fifty-four-year-old Cleveland State coach was simple and direct. The ABA’s Denver Rockets wanted John McLendon to be their next head coach. McLendon had won the AAU and NIBL titles in Denver...

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9. National and International Ambassador of Basketball for Converse, Inc., 1969–89

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pp. 181-198

A few days after McLendon was fired by the Rockets, Grady Lewis, vice president of Converse Rubber Company and fellow Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer, offered him a position as the company’s national and international promotional...

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10. Return to Cleveland State: Professor, Advisor, Historian, and “Just a Man”

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pp. 199-220

After living in the Chicago region for twenty years, McLendon returned to the Cleveland area and Cleveland State University in 1989. He and Joanna purchased a split-level home on tree-lined Runnymede Boulevard in the diverse...


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pp. 221-223


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pp. 225-241


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pp. 243-247


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pp. 249-256

About the Author, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781610750844
E-ISBN-10: 1610750845
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557289513
Print-ISBN-10: 1557289514

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 46 photos
Publication Year: 2007