Every year, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductees are announced on the same day as the NCAA tournament finals. While the Hall of Fame announcements don’t affect college basketball lines, many people feel the announcement should be made after the tournament is over so the inductees can get their well-deserved attention instead of playing second fiddle to the NCAA tournament.
This year’s Hall of Fame inductees are some of the biggest names in basketball history. Yao Ming, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, Sheryl Swoopes, Tom Izzo, and John B. McLendon, the former North Carolina Central head coach who died at age 84 in 1999.
While people have been talking about moving the date of the announcement so the Hall of Famers can get their deserved attention, a lot of people feel that should have been the case at least this year because of McLendon.
McLendon’s selection makes him the first player to be inducted in the Hall of Fame twice because he was inducted as a contributor and as a coach.
McLendon’s impact on basketball is greater than that of a lot of people already in the Hall of Fame. He was credited with speeding up racial integration and for changing the way the game is played. McLendon was highly respected by his peers and players because of his impact on the court and how he carried himself off the court.
Hall of Famer Clarence Gaines, who went on many recruiting trips with McLendon, called the coach a father figure; he also called him the most humble person he has ever met.
McLendon was considered a pioneer in college basketball because he was one of the first coaches to embrace a faster style of pace when others were still playing the same old plodding style of basketball. While he got a lot of credit for creating the fast break offense, McLendon is also credited with creating the two-in-the-corners offense that was later tweaked and rebranded as the Four Corners offense by North Carolina legend Dean Smith.
McLendon was also one of the founders of the CIAA tournament, which is the second oldest postseason tournament in college basketball. Under his leadership, McLendon’s team won the CIAA tournament eight times, as well as an AAU championship and an Industrial League championship.
Since the NCAA tournament was off-limits to colored colleges, McLendon’s team participated in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics playoffs, and he became the first coach to win the national championship three consecutive times while he was coaching Tennessee State.
Even though integrated competitions were banned, McLendon defied the NCAA in 1944 and organized a game between his team and a Duke University intramural squad.
In 1961, McLendon broke the color barrier by becoming the first African American to coach a professional sports team when he became the coach of the American Basketball League’s Cleveland Pipers. He would later become the head coach of the Denver Nuggets.
After his stint in the American Basketball Association, McLendon went off to become the first black coach at Cleveland State, a predominantly white school.
Despite all his achievements, very few people know Mclendon’s story, but George Raveling, a former coach on the Hall of Fame’s board of directors hopes that will change soon.