Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Good Seats Still Available

Jul 6, 2020

Pittsburgh-based The Athletic sportswriter Stephen J. Nesbitt (“How the Pipers, Condors and Pro Basketball in Pittsburgh Went Extinct”) joins to help us dig into the surprisingly rich (though mostly woeful) history of professional hoops in the Steel City.

Though the game has long thrived at the collegiate level (Pitt’s Panthers began playing in 1905; the Duquesne Dukes in 1914), the city’s record of success at the pro level has been distinctly more fleeting.  In fact, some would argue it was never better than the pre-integration Black Fives era of the 1910s/20s, when eventual Naismith Hall of Famer Cumberland Posey led his Monticello (1912) and Loendi Big Five (1919-23) clubs to five “Colored” Basketball World Championships.

As professional (and eventually integrated) leagues took root in the decades that followed, Pittsburgh’s attractive demographic profile made it a natural choice for inaugural – yet ultimately short-lived – franchises in virtually every major hardwood circuit that came calling, including:

  • The never-playoff-qualifying Pirates (1937-39) and re-born Raiders (1944-45) of the NBA-precedent National Basketball League;
  • The lamentable Ironmen (1947-48) of the NBA tributary Basketball Association of America;
  • The Connie Hawkins-led Renaissance (“Rens”) of the one-and-a-half-season (1961-62) American Basketball League; and especially;
  • The head-scratching Pipers of the legendary American Basketball Association – who, despite winning the league’s first championship behind regular-season and playoff MVP Hawkins in 1968 – relocated to Minneapolis, moved back to Pittsburgh, and finally re-branded as the “Condors” for two forgettable last seasons (1970-72).

With a checkered pro history like that, it’s little wonder that the basketball team most memorably associated with the City of Bridges wasn’t even a real club – the Pittsburgh Pisces (née Pythons) of the 1979 sports/disco fantasy cult film classic The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh.