Short-lived but with no shortage of success, the Cleveland Pipers stirred up basketball fever throughout the long winters of Northeast Ohio during the 1950s and went on to win the only championship of the American Basketball League—the league responsible for the inception of the three-pointer.
Precursor to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Pipers joined the American Basketball League (ABL) in 1961 under George Steinbrenner—yes, of New York Yankees fame, that Steinbrenner. Famous for his mercurial management moves such as mid-game player trades, Steinbrenner whetted his appetite for success in his first foray into sports-team ownership. And after weathering a midseason coaching change from John McLendon, the first African American professional basketball coach, to Bill Sharman, the Pipers stormed to and through the playoffs, beating the San Francisco Saints and New York Tapers in back-to-back nights to advance to the ABL finals. Cleveland’s season looked all but certain to end on a sour note, having fallen behind 0-2 in games to Kansas City Steers in the finals. However, three straight wins reversed the fortune and the Pipers won the first and only American Basketball League title. Pay homage.