- Associated Press - Saturday, October 18, 2014

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - John B. McLendon organized and played in the 1944 basketball game between Duke and N.C. Central University students that is known as “the secret game,” one of many gestures that helped break down the barriers of segregation.

McLendon also gave basketball the fast break and other strategies that made it a fast-paced sport.

“Coach Mac: Integrator and Innovator,” a new exhibit at the Durham History Hub, pays tribute to both sides of McLendon’s legacy. Many Durham residents know about “the secret game” but don’t know about the man who organized it, said Patrick Mucklow, director of operations at the Durham History Hub.

“When you start digging, you find out there’s so much more to him,” he said.

The McLendon exhibit is part of the museum’s rotating Exhibits from the Community section, which allows anyone in the community to propose an exhibit. Tamar Carroll, Umar Muhammad and Chanda Powell curated this exhibit, using photographs and materials from NCCU’s James E. Shepard Library Archives.

This exhibit has photographs from the archive grouped in three sections - “His Life,” ”Impact on the Game” and “NCCU Basketball, Then and Now.”

Born in Hiawatha, Kansas, in 1915, McLendon eventually went to the University of Kansas, where he learned about the game from its creator, James Naismith. That relationship prompted Muhammad to propose this exhibit to the History Hub.

“I saw a lot of my own experience in his life,” Muhammad said.

Like McLendon, Muhammad also was mentored by a white basketball coach, Fletcher Arritt at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia.

“That’s how I got my start in basketball,” he said.

Muhammad is a former assistant coach at NCCU, and now is general manager of the semi-pro basketball team the Bull City Legacy.

“Basketball brought us together, regardless of our religious background and our race,” Muhammad said of his relationship with coach Arritt. “And that’s the story about McLendon that I wanted to get out.”

McLendon, then 28 and a student at N.C. Central University, organized the meeting between teams at NCCU and Duke, both then segregated schools. He planned the game for a Sunday morning, March 12, a time when most people would be in church, according to history from the Durham County Library. The Duke students quietly sneaked into a gym at NCCU. The NCCU students trounced the Duke students, 88-44, after which the teams mixed up and played a shirts-vs.-skins game.

In basketball, McLendon increased the pace of the game, inventing the fast break and the full court press.

“McLendon perfected his system of constant movement (motion offense), aggressive defense and an up-tempo pace,” states one of the panels at this exhibit. He wrote about his strategies in a 1965 book, “Fast Break Basketball: Fundamentals and Fine Points.”

He led NCCU’s team to the Negro National College Championship in 1941. In 1959, McLendon became the first African-American to coach a professional team, the Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League. At NCCU, McLendon-McDougald Gymnasium bears his name, as does the CIAA Hall of Fame.

The History Hub wants to bring middle school and high school basketball players to see the exhibit, where they can learn about the origins of the techniques they are learning from their coaches, and to realize those techniques started here, Mucklow said.

“I don’t think you could have basketball the way it is today if it had not stopped in Durham with John McLendon,” Muhammad said.

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Information from: The Herald-Sun, https://www.herald-sun.com

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