Back in 2014 I wrote a piece called “Monte Irvin Is Proof That Black Don’t Crack.”
It was February and Irvin was turning 95 years old. At the time, he was considered the greatest living Negro League ballplayer in history and was a member of the MLB Hall of Fame.
In January of 2016 he passed away, but the spirit and impact of the Irvin family lived on in his brother Cal Irvin, who was also a great baseball player who played for the Newark Eagles and the Raleigh Grays. But Cal made his legendary name after arriving in Greensboro, where he would coach basketball, mold minds and serve as the athletics director at N.C. A&T.
Cal passed away on Saturday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, but the impact of the Irvin brothers on sports is invaluable and should be preserved and honored.
RIP Cal Irvin (brother of HOFer Monte) - former Negro League player with the Newark Eagles and legendary NCAA Basketball coach at North Carolina A&T. h/t @ed_hardin @nlbmprez https://t.co/608os8TGAC
Cal built an HBCU basketball dynasty in Greensboro and long before the ACC Tournament became the main basketball attraction in the city, Cal Irvin shocked the hoops world and led A&T to the 1959 NCAA College Division Final Four.
He was a groundbreaker, same as his brother Monte who mentored Willie Mays and helped cultivate, nurture and advise African-American baseball talent, before and after Jackie Robinson broke color barriers.
Today In 1951: Monte Irvin, Willie Mays & Hank Thompson become the 1st all African American outfield in World Series history! #SFGiants #MLB
Under Cal Irvin’s leadership, A&T would win 308 games in 18 years as the coach of the Aggies, leading the team to CIAA titles in 1959, 1962, 1964 and 1967. As the college basketball landscape modernized, A&T was fortunate to have Irvin running the show as he established a culture of winning both on and off the field and inspired the school’s eventual move from the CIAA to the MEAC conference and the world of big money collegiate hoops.
He’s a member of the CIAA Hall of Fame, the Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
When you express greatness you breed greatness and Cal touched many lives not only as a basketball coach but as a supreme mentor to hundreds of African-American men.
Basketball great Al Attles said Irvin taught him to be a man, a student and a basketball player.
“He taught me so much more,” Attles said a few years ago. Attles took the jewels Cal bestowed upon him and became the second African-American coach to win an NBA title with Golden State in 1975. Bill Russell was the first. “He taught me there was more than basketball.”
Irvin was a well-respected individual. He was talkative and social, wrote three books and explored the world as an inspirational speaker. The basketball court at A&T is named after Irvin and represents the rich legacy of one of college basketball’s all-time leaders and game changers.
RIP Coach Irvin.