As Duke and Kansas prep for Tuesday’s game in the Champion’s Classic, ESPN’s Martenzie Johnson has a nice piece up on Kansas native John McClendon, the legendary coach and Kansas native who was at NCCU from 1941-1952. He’s in the Hall of Fame twice, once as a contributor and also as a coach, and was one of the most innovative coaches to ever roam the sidelines. He persuaded James Naismith to mentor him and credited Naismith for everything he did in basketball, which was a lot.
Among his many contributions, McClendon basically invented the fast break and the press. UNC’s Dean Smith made the Four Corners offense famous, but that was McLendon’s creation too.
And when he was at Central, McLendon was the driving force behind The Secret Game, when Duke players made the short but risky trip to Central to very discreetly play the Eagles in an unsanctioned game.
It’s well known now obviously but in 1944, it was a secret because Durham, like much of the south, still had lynchings and other racial violence. Just a few months after the game, a bus driver told Army Private Booker Thomas Spicely to move to the back of the bus to accommodate some White soldiers. Spicely argued before leaving and the driver followed him out and shot him twice.
He was later acquitted by an all-white jury, somehow on the grounds of self defense.
Jack Burgess, who played for Duke, was nearly knifed by a Durham bus driver for questioning the segregating seating.
So The Secret Game was highly risky and was not revealed until the 1990’s.
He had many other firsts, including being the first Black coach to be an Olympic assistant and the first Black head coach of a professional team.
He’s a fascinating figure who continues to inspire.