Earl ‘The Pearl’ reflects on legacy

Basketball great Earl Monroe will be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame this fall. He also has an autobiography slated for release in April 2013. — SUBMITTED PHOTO

It’s been a big year for Philadelphia basketball legend Earl Monroe, who is truly making an impact beyond the game in so many ways. Monroe has teamed up with Merck in the Diabetes Restaurant Month program to challenge restaurants in Philadelphia to create diabetes-friendly menu items which are also heart healthy. Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1998, Monroe has learned how to maintain a diabetes-friendly lifestyle and reduce his risk of serious complications, like-heart disease, through a healthy diet and regular exercise.

“I’ve been working about two and a half years with Merck on this program,” Monroe said. “It’s interesting we got 26 million Americans with type 2 diabetes. For me, I kind of know first- hand. The challenge of finding healthy menu options when I go out to eat. Actually, that’s what the program is all about. Diabetes Restaurant was a program that was started two and a half years ago for the sole purpose of educating people with type 2 diabetes knowing how to get healthy substitutions when they do go out to eat.”

Since he’s been working with Merck on this effort, Monroe has focused on his own eating habits and setting goals, which has helped to lower his blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, and he’s even lost weight.

Monroe is bringing a greater awareness to diabetes, which is really important. He’s receiving a lot of attention for this campaign. Monroe nicknamed “The Pearl” will also be recognized for his basketball exploits when he is inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City during a three-day celebration (November 18–20). He will be inducted along with Georgetown and New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing, Kansas legend Clyde Lovellette and North Carolina’s star guard Phil Ford, Wyoming’s Kenny Sailors and coaches Kentucky’s Joe B. Hall and Virginia Union’s Dave Robbins and contributors Jim Host and Joe Dean.

Monroe played at John Bartram High School, where he was a terrific scholastic player. The late Leon Whitley, former Ben Franklin High star, was responsible for sending Monroe to Winston-Salem State University. Monroe played for legendary head coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines at WSSU. Monroe averaged 7.1, 23.2, 29.8 and 41.5 points in his four seasons at Winston-Salem. His 1,329 points as a Ram were a national record. He shot 16-for-30 scoring 40 points as Winston-Salem defeated Southwest Missouri State, 77-74, in the NCAA College Division championship game. Monroe and Gaines are already members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Now, Monroe will add another hall of fame induction to his brilliant career.

“For me, it’s a pretty big honor so to speak especially when you think these things are generally reserved for major college players,” Monroe said. “I think to be recognized with those guys pretty much solidifies that we played some pretty good basketball down at our Division II schools. Willis Reed is going in and another Knick Patrick Ewing is going in too.

“It’s a good honor. I hope a lot of guys can come to the event like Shaib (Steve Smith) who went to Winston-Salem with me. Plus, all my family and friends come out to the ceremony. I have so many friends. It would be great to see the guys down who played with me down in the playgrounds (South Philadelphia). I’m talking about guys like Dave Riddick.

“I’ve been very fortunate to play for Coach Gaines who was literally bigger than life. He understood his players and knew what was needed to be successful. He was not just a coach, but also a father figure for many of us.”

Gaines coached a number of Philadelphia basketball standouts like Ted Blunt, Rev. George Gibson and so many others. They were all outstanding players in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA).

In 1967, the Baltimore Bullets made Monroe the second pick in the NBA draft. He went on to become the Rookie of the Year, averaging 24.3 points a game in 1968. He spent the first four years of his NBA career with the Bullets. In 1971, Monroe was traded to the New York Knicks, where he teamed with Walt Frazier to form the league’s best backcourt. Monroe helped the Knicks win the NBA championship in 1973 with his spin moves and spectacular shots. Monroe not only entertained the fans in the NBA, but also in the Charles Baker League. Monroe developed the habit of arriving late, ducking his head through the door and prompting fans to pass the word along, “Magic is here.” He was Mr. Baker League.

Speaking of Magic, Monroe was one of the producers for the award winning sports documentary “Black Magic,” which highlighted top Black college basketball players and coaches during the 1960s. Well, Monroe is working on another project right now.

“I just signed a deal with Rodale to do my autobiography,” Monroe said. “That will be coming out next April. There are a lot of things coming up this past year that have been positive. We’re moving in the right direction. My co-author is a guy named Quincy Troupe who wrote “Miles Davis” autobiography and “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

This should be another great project for Earl Monroe.


Contact staff writer Donald Hunt at (215) 893-5719 or dhunt@phillytrib.com.

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