The Cleveland Pipers was an American industrial basketball team based in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1950s and early 1960s. The Pipers are most known for having played in the short-lived American Basketball League from 1961–62, arguably as that brief pro league's pivotal franchise. General Manager, Mike Cleary hired John McLendon, the first African American head coach in professional basketball, to lead the squad. Playing under coach John McLendon, and later coach Bill Sharman, the team won the league's 1962 championship, the only full season the league would ever have. The team had a number of interesting and notable moments. Future baseball legend George Steinbrenner got his start in professional sports ownership with the Pipers, which he bought from plumbing business owner Ed Sweeny to enter into the new ABL. Later, McClendon got a former college player he had coached, Dick Barnett, to jump from the NBA's Syracuse Nationals to the Pipers. Then, Steinbrenner, signed away Jerry Lucas from the NBA's Cincinnati Royals. Even early on here, long before his days as boss of the baseball Yankees, Steinbrenner could be meddlesome and irrepressible. In a game against the Hawaii Chiefs, George Steinbrenner sold player Grady McCollum to the Chiefs at halftime.
After team owner George Steinbrenner unsuccessfully petitioned to get the National Basketball Association to accept his team the following year, the Pipers disbanded. After the ABL folded, Steinbrenner had $125,000 in debts and personal losses of two million dollars.
In the spring of 1962, Cleveland Pipers owner George Steinbrenner signed Jerry Lucas to a player-management contract worth forty thousand dollars. With the Lucas signing, Steinbrenner had a secret deal with NBA commissioner Maurice Podoloff.
According to Bill Madden's Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, Steinbrenner made plans in 1963 to acquire the Kansas City Steers, from the recently failed ABL, as part of an application to bring the Cleveland Pipers into the NBA, and a schedule had, supposedly, been printed for the 1963-64 NBA season with the Pipers playing the New York Knicks in the first game. Steinbrenner and partner George McKean fell behind in payments to the NBA and the deal was cancelled.
Lucas did not play in any ABL games. Pipers players include the following:
- Jack Adams
- Dick Barnett - 1961-1962
- John Barnhill - 1960-1962
- Johnny Cox - 1960, 1961–62
- Connie Dierking - 1961-62
- Clarence "Bevo" Francis
- Larry Siegfried - 1961-62
- Dan Swartz - 1961
- Gene Tormohlen - 1959-1960
- Ben Warley - 1960-1962
- Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p.39, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0
- Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p.43, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0
- Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p.42, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0