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.