The CLEVELAND PIPERS were acquired by George Steinbrenner in 1961 to enter the newly formed professional American Basketball League organized by Abe Saperstein, owner of the Harlem Globetrotters. Before joining the ABL, the Pipers were an Industrial Basketball League team in 1959-60 and 1960-61, winning the league championship and the national Amateur Athletic Union crown in 1960-61.
The Cleveland team belonged to the ABL's Eastern Division, which included Pittsburgh, Washington, and Chicago; the Western Division was made up of San Francisco, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Hawaii. An innovative league scoring rule allowed a 3-point goal if made from an arc 25' from the basket. The Pipers, coached by John McLendon, the first black coach in professional basketball, included Ben Worley, John Barnhill, Rossi Johnson, Dick Barnett, and Larry Siegfried. They defeated the Hawaii Chiefs in their first home game, played 21 Nov. 1961 at the Public Hall before an announced crowd of 3,318. To increase fan interest, preliminary games featuring the Harlem Globetrotters and a basketball team consisting of Cleveland Brown football players were scheduled, without much success. When Bill Sharman took over as coach in Feb. 1962, attendance was poor even though the Pipers won the league championship. Although Steinbrenner signed Ohio State's Jerry Lucas to a generous contract for the 1962-63 season, the Pipers were financially unable to field a team. The league collapsed at the end of 1962, and Lucas joined the Cincinnati Royals of the National Basketball League.