March Madness Spotlights a Sport Relegated to Pittsburgh’s Shadows: Basketball

Sports run through Pittsburgh the way its rivers do, dappling the city’s culture with hints of black and gold.

The baseball icon Roberto Clemente’s name graces a downtown bridge. Over a half century after Franco Harris’s heaven-sent touchdown, the “Immaculate Reception” is as likely to be invoked at Sunday mass as the Immaculate Conception. And Mario Lemieux is revered as much for his charity — and for rescuing the Penguins from bankruptcy — as he is for delivering the city its first hockey championships.

This week the sporting spotlight is illuminating a pastime that is regularly relegated to the city’s shadows: basketball.

Duquesne, a small, Catholic school, back in the N.C.A.A. Division I men’s tournament for the first time in 47 years, notched the first shocker on Thursday with an upset of Brigham Young. Meanwhile, a couple blocks from its downtown campus, another shocker played out: Oakland booting Kentucky from the 68-team tournament.

Duquesne’s presence this March is a reminder of a Pittsburgh paradox: A city that pro basketball abandoned in the early 1970s, and whose college teams have only flirted with relevance for decades, has basketball roots that run rich and deep.

It is where some of the first signs of racial integration took hold. And where the influence of shoe companies and high school recruiting showcases can be traced. And where a surprising number of the game’s seminal figures and moments have their origin.

Back to top button