Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Nickname: “The Monticellos”
Colors: Brown, Yellow
Manager: Cumberland Posey, Jr.
In 1911, Cumberland “Cum” Posey formed an all-black basketball team called the Monticello Athletic Association.
Posey was a local multi-sport star who had led Homestead High School to the city basketball championship and who had earned respect on Pittsburgh’s tough, blue-collar sandlot playgrounds.
With no gym of their own, the Monticellos practiced and honed their game at the whites-only Phipps Gymnasium on city’s North Side, where one of Posey’s players, Jim Dorsey, worked as a janitor and had a key to the building. The Monticello lineup featured Posey, Dorsey, Walter Clark, Sell Hall, Israel Lee, and Posey’s brother, Seward.
When the Monticello’s quickly outgrew local white competition, Posey challenged the previous year’s black national champion, Howard University, to visit the Smoky City for “the first colored game ever played in Pittsburgh.”
The Monticellos got no respect and were considered “a huge joke” by Howard, who thought they would show the steel town “just how basketball is played in polite circles.”
The game was played at Washington Park Fieldhouse in the predominantly black Hill District. But while “Monticello girls” served refreshments to “as large and as fine an audience of local society people as it would be possible to assemble,” the Monticellos crushed Howard.
The victory put Pittsburgh on the black basketball map and earned the Monticello Athletic Association the Colored Basketball World’s Championship for 1911-12.
The success of the Monticello Athletic Association paved the way for other African American teams in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, by showing that any team from any city could produce a champion with enough desire and determination.
During this time, Posey also played centerfield for the Homestead Grays, which eventually became a leading franchise in the Negro National League under his leadership. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2006.
Meanwhile, the entire area formerly containing Washington Park was razed in the 1950s to make room for the construction of the old Civic Arena, a huge sports and events venue with a retractible roof that was built in the name of urban renewal. Vast historically important sections of the Lower Hill were destroyed and iconic landmarks like the Loendi Club, the Crawford Grill, and the Crawford Bathhouse were casualties.
In modern times, there is discussion about possibly resurrecting some of the old defunct streets of that earlier Lower Hill territory.
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