In 1910, Cumberland “Cum” Posey formed an all-black basketball team called the Monticello Athletic Association.
Posey was a local multi-sport star athlete 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 segregated Phipps Gymnasium on Pittsburgh’s North Side, where one of Posey’s players, Jim Dorsey, worked as a janitor and had a key to the building.
Cum Posey and Sell Hall also played baseball for the professional Homestead Grays, a Negro Leagues team that Posey eventually owned. (Posey was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2006.)
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.”
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.