John McLendon was a true pioneer in the field of athletics with a long list of remarkable achievements.
McLendon began his championship run in 1957 when he coached Tennessee A&I State University to three consecutive NAIA national tournament championships. He then moved on to coach the Cleveland Pipers, a post-collegiate integrated team, to a National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL) championship title, as well as a national A.A.U. title in 1961. McLendon agreed to coach an integrated U.S. All-Star team overseas, winning all eight games against the Soviet Union while in Russia. He also was a coach on the U.S. Olympic basketball staff in both 1968 and 1972.
McLendon was hired by Cleveland State University in 1966, becoming the first African-American head basketball coach at a predominantly white institution. Today, there are more than 250 African-American coaches at predominantly white institutions. McLendon left his coaching post at CSU in 1969, but would later return to the university in 1991 as an athletics department advisor, a position he held until his death in October 1999. During that span, McLendon taught a course on the role of minorities in sports, “History of Sports and the Role of Minorities in its Development.”
McLendon is the person responsible for the integration of college basketball. Throughout the years, he was the head basketball coach at North Carolina Central College (1940-52), Hampton Institute (1952-54), Tennessee State University (1954-59), Kentucky State University (1963-66) and Cleveland State University (1966-69).
McLendon's success in the college ranks led him to the professional arena. Cleveland businessman Ed Sweeny, owner of the Cleveland Pipers of the National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL), and team General Manager Mike Cleary, now NACDA's executive director, hired McLendon as coach of the Pipers in 1959. The NIBL was a high profile company-sponsored league of post college players. Two years later, McLendon led the team to the NIBL championship and the national AAU championship. Sweeney eventually sold the team to George Steinbrenner in what was to become Steinbrenner's first venture into professional sports ownership. The Pipers became part of the American Basketball League in 1962, making McLendon the first Black professional coach. In addition to his tenure in the NIBL, McLendon was also the head coach of the Denver Rockets (Nuggets) of the American Basketball Association (ABA) in 1969-70.
As successful McLendon has been as a coach, his administrative responsibilities were equally as impressive. While serving as the basketball coach at North Carolina Central, McLendon was also the athletics director, a post he held for 12 years. At Hampton, he had additional positions as the assistant director of athletics and physical education. At Tennessee State, McLendon was appointed director of basketball operations from 1954-59 and director of the department of health, physical education, recreation and athletics from 1962-63. However, it was his service on the National Athletic Steering Committee, which McLendon founded in 1949, which had a large impact on the integration of basketball, and eventually, all sports. McLendon also served as director of international promotions for Converse Inc. from 1969-89.
The recipient of many honors, McLendon was also inducted into several Halls of Fame, including the Helms Foundation - Coaches Division (1962), the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (1978), the NAIA (1983), North Carolina Central (1984), Tennessee State (1984), Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (1986), the state of North Carolina (1996) and the most prestigious of them all -- the Naismith Memorial (1978 & 2016).
In addition, McLendon was the first African-American man to study under Dr. James Naismith. He became Dr. Naismith’s advisee during his schooling at the University of Kansas.
Since its inception, the McLendon Scholarship program has provided more than 90 postgraduate scholarships, each in the amount of $10,000, to minority students pursuing a graduate degree in athletics administration. Five scholarships are awarded each year to individuals meeting the criteria.
In 2007, the Foundation established the McLendon Minority Athletics Administrators Hall of Fame. This was created to recognize and honor the dedication of longtime minority athletics administrators in raising awareness and working toward the advancement of minorities in the field of athletics administration, while achieving the highest level of excellence in their own career.
The McLendon Foundation was founded by NACDA in 1998. The organization provides educational opportunities and serves as a vehicle for networking, information and advocacy on behalf of the profession.