If there was a single fixture that correlates to the New York Knicks, it would have to be The Peal…Black Magic…Earl “The Pearl” Monroe….. a NYK legend through and through.
Earl Monroe was one of the players that ushered in a new era of the NBA; an era that monopolized the team concept, but at the same time, allowed individual players to showcase their personal talents. Basically, playground players were a SENSATION during this time. Earl Monroe was THE playground player of the era; he had that dazzling swag.
“The ultimate playground player” – Bill Bradley
Think of J.R. Smith-Derrick Rose – Russell Westbrook – LeBron James- type of circus shots. That twisting and spinning motion that is so common place in today’s era of NBA; wasn’t always so common. The Pearl brought The Harlem Globetrotters to the NBA in the way that AWED the audience and brought crowds to their feet.
The Pearl’s Accomplishments (18.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.9 APG)
- NBA Champion (1973)
- 4× NBA All-Star (1969, 1971, 1975, 1977)
- NBA Rookie of the Year (1968)
- All-NBA First Team (1969)
- NBA All-Rookie First Team (1968)
- NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team
- #15 Retired by the New York Knicks
- #10 Retired by the Washington Wizards
He was the No.2 draft pick in 1967 chosen by the Baltimore Bullets and although the team did not improve much, Earl was named Rookie of the Year as he averaged 24.3 points per game. However, Baltimore surrounded Monroe with adequate talent the following year (Unseld, Gus Johnson, Marin, Mad Dog) which aided Monroe in what he does best: slash to the basket and play his “run and gun” game. This proved beneficial for Baltimore as they were playoff bound for the next three seasons as Earl averaged 25.8, 23.4 and 21.4 during these seasons.
The Pearl had a “light as a feather” jumper and his patented spin move which was initiated when he bumped into a defender then he would spin before shooting one of his circus-like shots. He used pump fakes that befuddled opponents, in which it allowed him to penetrate with ease.
My all-time favorite ballplayer was Earl Monroe. Earl the Pearl. Yeah, he was nice. See, everybody remember him from the Knicks, you know, when he helped win that second championship and everything like that. I’m talking about when he was with the Bullets down at Winston-Salem Stadium… before that game, with 42 points a game the whole season; 41.6 the whole season. But the Knicks, they put the shackles on him, man, you know, on his whole game. They locked him up, like in a straitjacket or something. When he was in the streets of Philly, the playgrounds, you know what they called him? Jesus. That’s what they called him — Jesus. ‘Cause he was the truth.—Jake Shuttleworth, He Got Game
“Put a basketball in his hands and he does wondrous things with it,” said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. “He has the greatest combination of basketball ability and showmanship.” In a New York Post interview, Baltimore teammate Ray Scott was less circumspect: “God couldn’t go one-on-one with Earl.”
From 1969-1974, 6 consecutive years, that the Baltimore Bullets and the New York Knicks squared off in the playoffs. It was during this time, Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe would face off with one another. The rivals of the east. Perhaps, similar to the Melo and LeBron matchups so many crave to watch of seasons past. Walt and Earl were drafted in the same year; Frazier was drafted by the Knicks at the number 5 spot. The defensive master Frazier was astonished by the offensive skill set of Monroe.
“You’d have to knock him out to stop him. He gets his body between you and the ball so you can’t get at it. Yet, he seems so relaxed. He doesn’t show a bit of pressure.” – Walt on Earl
Despite all of his greatness, his critics still believed he cared more about his personal achievements rather than winning a championship. On November 10th, 1971, Monroe was traded to the rivaled New York Knicks.
“You have to understand that Earl was the quintessential school yard player and he was going to go to the team that was the most anti-school yard team in basketball. So I kept asking him, ‘Can you be part of that kind of offense? Can you play without the ball?” – Sonny Hill, Confidante of Earl Monroe
“You know, Philadelphia’s a different animal than New York. In the playgrounds down there, we pride ourselves on teamwork, on passing the ball, whereas in New York, most of the guys made a move to the basket, one-on-one.” – The Pearl
Earl Monroe went from the Nascar driver to taxi driver in New York, and obviously had a problematic time acclimating himself to a new playing scheme. He played less than 25 minutes per game during the 1971-72 season, and scored less than 12 points per game. However, the following season, Frazier and Pearl complimented one another and were given the moniker “The Rolls Royce of the Backcourt.”
It would be this same backcourt, in all of it’s effectiveness and efficiency, it would one of the rare gems of backcourts in the NBA. How?? It is one of few backcourts that featured two hall of famers AND 50th NBA Annervisary players.
It would be during the 1972-73 season that The Pearl would finally get his championship ring and the New York Knicks would topple the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. He became a New York favorite with his astonishing plays and put up modest numbers over the next few seasons:
- ’74-75: 20.9 ppg
- ’75-76: 20.7 ppg
- ’76-77: 19.9 ppg
However, New York was falling-off since their championship year in 1973, Monroe would retire in 1980 while averaging 7.4 points per game.
Earl Monroe piloted a new era in the NBA; where one could utilize their personal talents in a team-oriented aspect, but still prosper ………. immeasurably.
The Pearl glimmers in all its lustrous and radiant glory .
Credits: NBA Encyclopedia
Earl The Pearl: The Story Of Earl Monroe.
When the Garden Was Eden: Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill, and the Glory Days of the New York Knicks
He Got Game