Yale participated in an initiative organized by College Insider’s Eracism Committee to honor John McLendon and recognize one of the first integrated games of basketball in the Jim Crow South.
Tim Tai, staff photographer
Before practice one day last week, Yale men’s basketball head coach James Jones gathered his team for a team meeting and history lesson.
Yale was gearing up for its first straight Ivy League of the season, back-to-back games against Dartmouth and Harvard that the Bulldogs ended up sweeping. But the team thought back to 1944 that afternoon, a decade before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Brown v. Board of Education decision and a time when black college basketball teams were still not allowed to participate in the NCAA Tournament and the National Invitational Tournament. That year, in Durham, North Carolina, Jones told his players that Hall of Fame coach John McLendon led what is now North Carolina Central against an all-white Duke team in a scrimmage. known as the “secret game”. Taking place behind locked gymnasium doors on a Sunday morning, the game, which took place when Jim Crow laws still criminalized interracial interactions, was one of the first integrated games of college basketball in the South.
That discussion set the stage for Friday night, when the players donned pre-game warm-up shirts that read, “This game is no secret.” The jerseys were the centerpiece of an initiative organized by Eracism, a social change committee formed in December 2020 by basketball website and tournament sponsor College Insider.
“It’s funny because Coach Jones told us the story and explained where Eracism came from, but ended the story without even telling us who won between Duke and NC Central,” said the captain and Yale guard Jalen Gabbidon ’22. “So you know that was the first question anyone asked after they finished.”
No official scoreboard exists, but the finale was widely reported. NC Central beat Duke, 88–44, playing a fast attacking style that McLendon put down. According to the story of the game by Scott Ellsworth, a writer for the Carolina Times, a black weekly, agreed not to publish anything when he learned of the contest. McLendon also did not notify his school administration of the game.
“I had never played basketball against a white person before, and I was a little shaky,” Aubrey Stanley, who played in the game under McLendon, said in a 1996 New York Times Magazine article. in the second half, McLendon’s Eagles scored almost every move on the field. After the first game, the two teams shuffled their lineups and replayed with new teammates.
Jones called McLendon “the father of the fast break” as he told the story and reflected on its significance after Yale’s 72-69 win over Dartmouth on Friday night.
“The guys at Duke had to take those cars back, and they took a way back. They played the game on a Sunday because the police were at the church,” Jones said. “They did all these things just so they could have this game. If you think about it today, it’s kind of ridiculous that this should have happened in this country.
Jones said the purpose of the initiative, which took place around the start of Black History Month, was to honor the memory of McLendon and his often overlooked contributions to the sport. In addition to the fast break, they included the all-court press and four-corner offense later used by North Carolina coach Dean Smith. According to his obituary, McLendon, who died in 1999, ran his players three miles every day before the season when he coached at Tennessee State, conditioning that allowed his teams a fast pace of play. When Cleveland State hired him in 1966, he became the first black coach at a predominantly white institution.
Last winter marked the start of the “This Game is No Secret” initiative, but Yale and other Ivy League teams had their first opportunity to compete last weekend due to last year’s COVID-19 cancellation of the Ancient Eight athletic competition. Dartmouth and Harvard also wore the shirts before their games in New Haven last weekend, and Brown, Cornell and Columbia also wore them before their games. Division I programs across the country — Miami, Cincinnati, Howard, Houston, Iowa and New Mexico State, among others — also participated.
Gabbidon said he hoped fans who saw the jerseys — either on ESPNU, where the Yale-Dartmouth game was nationally televised, or in the John J. Lee Amphitheater, where attendance was still limited to faculty, staff, and graduate and professional students on Friday night — took the time to read about McLendon and learn a new piece of black history in America.
Today, Jones is one of two black head coaches in 16 Ivy League men’s and women’s basketball programs, along with Harvard men’s basketball head coach Tommy Amaker. Jones serves on the College Insider Eracism Committee along with a multiracial group of other Division I men’s basketball head coaches, including Houston’s Kevin Sampson, Texas’ Chris Beard, Oklahoma State’s Mike Boynton and Columbia’s Jim Engles.
One of the main initiatives of the group is to defend minority coaches in sport. According to Eracism, only 11 of the 65 head coaches at Power 5 schools — in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — are black, a disproportionate figure compared to the percentage of black male basketball players in many these schools. . 53.2% of all DI male basketball players are black, according to the 2020 Race and Gender Report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
“We’ve tried to help minority coaches find jobs and spread the word, understanding that we all have to live together and it’s better when we can co-exist in a positive way,” Jones said.
Prior to the founding of Eracism in December 2020, Jones joined the Board of Directors for the Advancement of Black People in Sport in September 2020.