Cleveland Pipers

The Cleveland Pipers were an American industrial basketball team based in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1950s and early 1960s. The Pipers are mostly known for having played in the short-lived American Basketball League from 1961–62. They were also a power in the days Amateur Athletic Union (AAU ) basketball and the National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL) which peaked in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Cleveland Pipers
Cleveland Pipers logo
LeaguesNIBL 1959–1961
ABL 1961–1962
ArenaCleveland Arena
Team colorsRed, White & Blue


The team was first owned and run Ed Sweeny, a shareholder in a company which handled plumbing, heating and air conditioning services for a number of companies and buildings in the city of Cleveland. Sweeny handled sponsorship for a number of Cleveland recreational sports teams and leagues, including his basketball entry which later became the Cleveland Pipers. Sweeny's winning industrial team was later purchased by the ambitious young George Steinbrenner, then a 30 year-old son of a Cleveland trading company owner. General Manager Mike Cleary later 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 1961-62 championship, the only full-season title in the league's short history.

Steinbrenner got his start in professional sports ownership with the Pipers, which he entered into the new ABL. The team's precarious financial situation was such that its home games took place in eight different arenas and gyms. These ranged from the team's primary home at either Cleveland Public Hall or the Cleveland Arena to local colleges such as Baldwin-Wallace College, to high school facilities in Ashtabula, Lorain and Sandusky, and as far south as Columbus.

Upon his hiring, McClendon was able to convince a former college player he had coached, Dick Barnett, to jump from the NBA's Syracuse Nationals to the Pipers. Then, after the team's first season, Steinbrenner signed Ohio State University All-American Jerry Lucas. In the latter case, the signing enraged the rival National Basketball Association (NBA), which attempted to lure Steinbrenner and the Pipers into jumping leagues. The mounting debts and costs of that move proved too much for the then-young Steinbrenner, who folded the team just months later.

Even early on, Steinbrenner was meddlesome and irrepressible. Basketball lore indicates that at halftime of the November 22, 1961 game against the Hawaii Chiefs, he sold player Grady McCollum to the Chiefs at halftime.[1]

Industrial leagueEdit

The team sponsored by Ed Sweeny Co started in the Industrial A League. Opponents included Cleveland Twist Drill, East Ohio Gas and White Motors in this small eight-team division.[citation needed]

AAU and industrial basketball were popular in Cleveland then, as the city was not a college basketball hotbed, and pro basketball, such as the then-struggling NBA, were not yet strong in the city. The city's various sponsored industrial teams and local high school action therefore dominated then.

In 1958, the Sweeny Pipers won their league and they were then invited to join the nine-team Greater Cleveland Muny League, the top league in the city, for the 1958–59 season. Opponents included Bruscino Construction, Carney Auditors, Blepp-Coombs, and Cotton Club Beverage. The Sweeny team went 28–0 to win the league in 1959.[citation needed]

The team had strong local connections, with Cleary, coach Tom Nolan a former John Carroll University star, and guard John Hollis. Their first big star was 6' 6 Cornelius ' Corney ' Freeman, a former top scorer on Xavier's 1957 NIT team.

Sweeny also hosted several national industrial powers during the 58–59 season, including Wichita Vickers, Akron Goodyear and the Seattle Buchan Bakers. His Pipers lost them all, a briefly discouraging fact. That Spring, with the college basketball season concluding, a number of college players were immediately available to be signed by industrial teams, which was common then. Sweeny signed several, including future New York Knick Johnny Green, and Kansas State All-American Bob Boozer. He also signed Tennessee State small college champion coach McLendon to lead the Pipers and his star Dick Barnett. On April 5, 1959, this revamped Pipers team hosted the Denver-Chicago Truckers at Cleveland Arena, and won the game. The Truckers, like the above mentioned industrial teams, were part of the NIBL, and the Pipers were soon asked to join that circuit as their eighth team for the 1959–60 season.


The Ed Sweeny Cleveland Pipers went 16–16 in the 1959–60 NIBL campaign, which was won again by the league's long-running power, the Phillips 66ers of Bartlesville, OK. They also hosted and played in a number of exhibitions including a visiting Soviet Union team, The U.S. Pan American Games team, and the Saint Bonaventure University college team. New stars included Kentucky's Johnny Cox, 6–9 Gene Tormohlen, and Tennessee Staters, John Barnhill and Ben Warley. All later played in the NBA. They were edged 84–82 by eventual AAU champion Peoria, and their signee Boozer, and finished the season in a sea of debt. Sweeny allowed Steinbrenner to take over the team in April, 1960. Steinbrenner had been a longtime AAU backer.

For the NIBL 1960–61 campaign, Steinbrenner's first big signing was Dan Swartz, the NIBL's leading scorer from Wichita. The Pipers went 24-10 in the now six-team league to win the NIBL title, the league's last. They then also won the 1961 AAU national tournament in Denver as well.


The American Basketball League played one full season, 19611962, and part of the next season until the league folded on December 31, 1962. The ABL was the first basketball league to have a three point shot for baskets scored far away from the goal. Other rules that set the league apart were a 30-second shooting clock and a wider free throw lane, 18 feet instead of the standard 12.

The American Basketball League was formed when Abe Saperstein did not get the Los Angeles National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise he sought. His Harlem Globetrotters had strong NBA ties. When Minneapolis Lakers owner Bob Short was permitted to move the Lakers to Los Angeles, Saperstein reacted by convincing National Alliance of Basketball Leagues (NABL) team owner Paul Cohen (Tuck Tapers) and Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) National Champion Cleveland Pipers owner George Steinbrenner to take the top NABL and AAU teams and players and form a rival league.[2]

League franchises were: the Chicago Majors (1961–1963); Cleveland Pipers (1961–1962); Kansas City Steers (1961–63); Long Beach Chiefs (1961–1963), as Hawaii Chiefs in 1961–62; Los Angeles Jets (1961–62, disbanded during season); Oakland Oaks (1961–1963, as San Francisco Saints in 1961–1962; Philadelphia Tapers 1961–1963, as Washington Tapers in 1961–62; moved to New York during 1961–62 season; as New York Tapers in 1961–62 and the Pittsburgh Rens (1961–1963).[2]

On March 27, 1961, the Pipers announced that they would be joining the American Basketball League that would begin play that fall, with former Ohio State basketball star Jimmy Hull, a friend of Steinbrenner's joining the team two days later as a major stockholder in the franchise.

The Pipers had played their previous two years at the Cleveland Arena, but sought a new home to reduce the $750 per game cost to rent the facility. They signed an agreement with the city of Cleveland to play 27 games at Public Hall at $400 per game or 15 percent of the gross receipts. However, in early August 1961, Cleveland mayor Anthony Celebrezze asked to renegotiate the deal, asking for the same $750 per game that the Pipers had paid at the Arena. Steinbrenner refused and threatened to move the team to Columbus.

On September 14, Ben Fleiger of the Cleveland Press was named the team's new general manager. He replaced Cleary, who had left the position with the rival Kansas City Steers.

The Barnett AffairEdit

Prior to the start of the facility controversy continued, McClendon signed his former Tennessee State star, Dick Barnett, on August 16 to a one-year contract for $13,000. Barnett had completed his second year with the NBA's Syracuse Nationals and had been offered a new contract worth $11,500 for the season, but his signing led to another legal dispute. On September 25, the same day that the Pipers began their preseason training camp, the Nationals announced plans to file a temporary restraining order to prevent Barnett from playing for the Pipers.

Syracuse cited the fact that the contract gave the team the legal option to maintain Barnett's rights, while Cleveland's legal team focused on the case of another ABL player, Kenny Sears. He had played for the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA, but then signed a deal to play for the ABL's San Francisco Saints. The Nationals obtained that temporary restraining order on October 23, less than two weeks before the start of the regular season.

The situation remained unresolved for the next two months, with Barnett unable to either play or practice with the Pipers. Eventually, the Nationals won a permanent injunction, but agreed to release Barnett from their deal after a handshake agreement between Steinbrenner and Syracuse general manager Dick Biasone.

Jerry LucasEdit

After a strong recruiting pitch that lasted for more than a month, Steinbrenner officially signed Ohio State University All-American Jerry Lucas to a player-management contract on May 16, 1962. Lucas announced the signing in a bylined article in Sports Illustrated. His two-year deal was to pay him a yearly salary of $10,000 with another $40,000 part of an investment portfolio.[3]

At the time of the signing, Lucas indicated that while the Pipers' offer amounted to less than the three-year deal worth $100,000 that was offered by the NBA's Cincinnati Royals, it addressed his interest in finishing work on his degree at Ohio State and his intent to attend graduate school. In addition, a portion of the investments had indicated that they would be willing to hire him once his basketball career had ended.

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.[3] Steinbrenner and partner George McKean fell behind in payments to the NBA and the deal was cancelled.

NBA petitionEdit

After 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 $2 million.[4]


Lucas did not play in any ABL games. Pipers players include the following:


Year League Reg. Season Playoffs
1961/62 ABL 1st, Eastern Champion

Game logEdit



Record: 10-5 ; Home: 5-1 ; Road: 4-4; Neutral: 1-1

# Date H/A/N Opponent W/L Score Record Attendance Site
1 November 5 A Pittsburgh Rens L 82-87 0-1 6,236 Civic Arena
2 November 6 A Kansas City Steers W 110-106 1-1 3,107 Municipal Auditorium
3 November 8 A Kansas City Steers L 100-101 1-2 1,035 Municipal Auditorium
4 November 9 A San Francisco Saints W 103-100 2-2 6,744 Cow Palace
5 November 10 A San Francisco Saints W 97-88 3-2 7,192 Cow Palace
6 November 13 A Los Angeles Jets L 99-108 3-3 3,176 Olympic Auditorium
7 November 14 A Los Angeles Jets L 90-106 3-4 2,630 Olympic Auditorium
8 November 17 A Pittsburgh Rens W 111-94 4-4 3,437 Civic Arena
9 November 18 N vs. Pittsburgh Rens W 88-87 5-4 1,775 Washington Coliseum
10 November 21 H Hawaii Chiefs W 91-74 6-4 3,318 Public Hall
11 November 22 H Hawaii Chiefs W 97-96 7-4 3,569 Public Hall
12 November 25 H Pittsburgh Rens L 91-97 7-5 2,843 Public Hall
13 November 26 H Pittsburgh Rens W 137-94 8-5 7,000 (EST) Cleveland Arena
14 November 28 H Kansas City Steers W 99-97 9-5 2,215 Public Hall
15 November 30 H Kansas City Steers W 109-102 10-5 1,200 (EST) Public Hall


Record: 9-12 ; Home: 5-4 ; Road: 3-5 ; Neutral: 1-3

# Date H/A/N Opponent W/L Score Record Attendance Site
16 December 1 H vs. Los Angeles Jets W 113-92 11-5 2,201 Columbus Fairgrounds Coliseum
17 December 2 H Los Angeles Jets L 109-116 11-6 3,254 Public Hall
18 December 5 N vs. Chicago Majors L 97-110 11-7 2,300 (EST) Milwaukee Arena
19 December 6 A Chicago Majors L 93-101 11-8 2.678 Cleveland Arena
20 December 7 N vs. Chicago Majors W 107-88 12-8 2,432 Civic Arena
21 December 9 H Pittsburgh Rens L 113-134 12-9 300 (EST) Baldwin Wallace College
22 December 10 A Pittsburgh Rens W 107-102 13-9 6,213 Civic Auditorium
23 December 13 H Chicago Majors W 117-95 14-9 2,500 (EST) Cleveland Arena
24 December 14 N vs. Kansas City Steers L 104-112 14-10 3,692 Civic Arena
25 December 15 A Washington Tapers L 100-108 14-11 Washington Coliseum
26 December 16 A Washington Tapers W 99-84 15-11 5,745 Washington Coliseum
27 December 17 N vs. Washington Tapers L 88-90 15-12 6,293 Civic Arena
28 December 19 A Chicago Majors W 99-94 16-12 900 (EST) at Rockford, IL (Boyland Central Catholic High School)
29 December 20 A Chicago Majors L 94-98 16-13 1,872 Chicago Stadium
30 December 21 H Chicago Majors L 112-113 16-14 3,453 Cleveland Arena
31 December 23 H Pittsburgh Rens W 132-117 17-14 3,218 Public Hall
32 December 25 H Pittsburgh Rens L 106-108 17-15 2,315 Cleveland Arena
33 December 26 A Washington Tapers L 108-109 17-16 1,110 Washington Coliseum
34 December 28 A Washington Tapers L 106-123 17-17 1,197 Washington Coliseum
35 December 29 H Washington Tapers W 124-98 18-17 3,518 Public Hall
36 December 30 H Washington Tapers W 118-104 19-17 7,218 Public Hall


Record: 7-8 ; Home: 4-2 ; Road: 2-5 ; Neutral: 1-1

# Date H/A/N Opponent W/L Score Record Attendance Site
37 January 1 N Chicago Majors W 117-99 20-17 1,600 (EST) University of Akron Memorial Hall
38 January 3 H Chicago Majors W 114-104 21-17 2,338 Public Hall
39 January 6 H San Francisco Saints L 93-103 21-18 4,220 Public Hall
40 January 7 H San Francisco Saints W 140-107 22-18 Columbus Fairgrounds Coliseum
41 January 9 H New York Tapers W 141-124 23-18 2,114 Admiral King High School
42 January 10 N vs. Kansas City Steers W 115-110 (OT) 24-18 2,223 Chicago Stadium


Date H/A/N Opponent W/L Score Attendance Site
January 12 A Kansas City Steers L 93-106 5,286 Municipal Auditorium
January 13 H Kansas City Steers W 98-87 4,276 Public Hall
January 14 A Kansas City Steers L 120-104 2,313 Municipal Auditorium


# Date H/A/N Opponent W/L Score Record Attendance Site
43 January 15 A Pittsburgh Rens W 110-108 1-0 3,482 Civic Arena
44 January 16 N vs. Kansas City Steers L 110-118 1-1 1,600 (EST) Long Island Arena
45 January 17 H Pittsburgh Rens L 97-107 1-2 2,143 Cleveland Arena
46 January 20 A Kansas City Steers L 114-115 1-3 3,018 Municipal Auditorium
47 January 21 A Kansas City Steers L 120-132 1-4 2,296 Municipal Auditorium
48 January 23 A Hawaii Chiefs L 100-106 1-5 2,819 Civic Auditorium
49 January 25 A Hawaii Chiefs W 114-113 2-5 1,940 Bloch Arena
50 January 26 A Hawaii Chiefs L 114-121 2-6 3,339 Civic Auditorium
51 January 27 A Hawaii Chiefs L 94-106 2-7 3,531 Civic Auditorium


Record: 9-6 ; Home: 5-3 ; Road: 1-3 ; Neutral: 3-0

# Date H/A/N Opponent W/L Score Record Attendance Site
52 February 3 H Chicago Majors W 120-114 3-7 2,338 Public Hall
53 February 4 H New York Tapers L 109-112 3-8 1,523 Public Hall
54 February 6 H San Francisco Saints L 123-126 3-9 1,750 Sandusky High School
55 February 7 H San Francisco Saints W 144-115 4-9 1,738 Public Hall
56 February 8 N vs. San Francisco Saints W 129-118 5-9 3,917 Civic Arena
57 February 10 H Pittsburgh Rens W 125-114 6-9 1,911 Public Hall
58 February 11 A Pittsburgh Rens W 105-103 7-9 3,875 Civic Arena
59 February 12 H Hawaii Chiefs L 136-137 (2 OT) 7-10 6,090 Cleveland Arena
60 February 14 N vs. Hawaii Chiefs W 115-103 8-10 1,240 New Castle High School
61 February 15 N vs. Hawaii Chiefs W 112-108 9-10 3,784 Civic Arena
62 February 17 A Chicago Majors L 106-115 9-11 3,115 Chicago Stadium
63 February 23 H New York Tapers W 138-121 10-11 3,417 Cleveland Arena
64 February 25 H Kansas City Steers W 111-109 11-11 2,048 Cleveland Arena
65 February 27 A New York Tapers L 90-101 11-12 2,369 Long Island Arena
66 February 28 A New York Tapers L 86-102 11-13 1,353 Long Island Arena


Record: 10-5 ; Home: 8-0 ; Road: 1-4 ; Neutral: 1-1

# Date H/A/N Opponent W/L Score Record Attendance Site
67 March 3 A Chicago Majors L 111-115 11-14 Chicago Stadium
68 March 5 H Kansas City Steers W 104-92 12-14 1,396 Canton Memorial Civic Center
69 March 7 A San Francisco Saints L 101-103 12-15 1,142 Civic Auditorium
70 March 8 A San Francisco Saints W 100-98 13-15 853 Civic Auditorium
71 March 9 A San Francisco Saints L 104-106 (OT) 13-16 1,140 Civic Auditorium
72 March 13 H Chicago Majors W 110-101 14-16 1,300 (EST) Ashtabula High School
73 March 14 H Chicago Majors W 124-122 15-16 2,310 Public Hall
74 March 15 H Kansas City Steers W 116-101 16-16 1,519 Public Hall
75 March 17 H Hawaii Chiefs W 107-100 17-16 Public Hall
76 March 18 H Chicago Majors W 111-102 18-16 3,215 Public Hall
77 March 21 H Pittsburgh Rens W 124-102 19-16 2,338 Cleveland Arena
78 March 22 N vs. New York Tapers L 98-100 19-17 3,943 Civic Arena
79 March 23 A Pittsburgh Rens L 124-135 19-18 5,153 Civic Arena
80 March 24 H Pittsburgh Rens W 136-126 20-18 975 (EST) Cleveland Arena
81 March 25 N vs. Pittsburgh Rens W 114-106 21-18 3,441 War Memorial


Date H/A/N Opponent W/L Score Attendance Site
March 30 H San Francisco Saints W 124-102 1,500 (EST) Cleveland Arena
March 31 N vs. New York Tapers W 98-100 300 Municipal Auditorium


Date H/A/N Opponent W/L Score Attendance Site
April 1 A Kansas City Steers L 101-126 3,246 Municipal Auditorium
April 3 A Kansas City Steers L 118-82 4,101 Municipal Auditorium
April 4 H Kansas City Steers W 130-114 7,624 Cleveland Arena
April 7 H Kansas City Steers W 100-98 4,115 Cleveland Arena
April 9 A Kansas City Steers W 106-102 3,000 (EST) Rockhurst College


  1. ^ Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p.39, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0
  2. ^ a b "History of the American Basketball League".
  3. ^ a b Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p.42, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0
  4. ^ Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, p.43, Bill Madden, Harper Collins Publishing, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-06-169031-0

External linksEdit