Breaking Through


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About this book

Winner, William Rockhill Nelson Award


John B. McLendon was the last living protégé of basketball’s inventor, Dr. James Naismith, and one of the “top ten basketball coaches of the century” in Billy Packer’s opinion. McLendon’s amazing records in college and pro basketball earned him a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame (the first black coach to be inducted), and his coaching philosophy has had a huge influence on basketball coaches. Breaking Through is also a powerful and inspirational story about segregation and a champion’s struggle for equality in 1940s and 50s America.


Black Magic, ESPN’s Peabody Award–winning documentary about players and coaches who attended historically black colleges and universities, covers many of the events in McLendon’s life that Katz writes about in his book.


John McLendon was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

About the author

Milton S. Katz is professor of American Studies, School of Liberal Arts, Kansas City Art Institute.


“This richly detailed, carefully researched, and affectionate biography is a positive step in reemphasizing McClendon’s rightful place in basketball—and sports—history.”



“The research Katz has done for Breaking Through is outstanding . . . dramatic and exciting.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer


“Finally, a book has been written that takes a complete look at McLendon’s life on and off the court. . . . The book is both a history lesson and an inspiration to any player, coach, or spectator who has ever known the transcendent powers of a game. . . . Katz gives incredible insight on a pioneer.”



“The Father of Black Basketball, [McLendon] was the godfather to the young black athlete. I saw him as a true caretaker of the sport.”

—Julius Irving, NBA Hall of Famer

The Philadelphia Inquirer


Breaking Through will teach readers something about adversity and how to prevail, about what it means to earn respect at the highest level.”

—Earl Lloyd, NBA Hall of Famer and the first African American to play in the NBA