He has had the names “Black Jesus” and “Earl The Pearl,” and is a Hall of Famer and one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history. Now as the New York Knicks approach their 40th anniversary of their last NBA title, Earl Monroe has been his own bio along with writer Quincy Troupe. “Earl The Pearl: My Story,” is out this week and tells of Monroe’s growing up in Philly, dealing with racism in the South and what it was like to help change the way basketball is played.
Why do this book now?
I just think it was time. It was very good for me to revisit some things which now I can laugh at, like encountering the KKK in North Carolina, and help tell a story that is more a journey through life and its lessons than about a basketball player. I think that in many cases today’s young people know of us but they don’t know how we got here, and that’s what I wanted to accomplish.
In the book you talk about potentially joining players in the ABA and visited the Indiana pacers, but you chose to stay in the NBA. Why?
I loved visiting Indiana, great guys, an amazing team and what style they had But I went into the locker room and everyone had a gun and when I asked why they said that Indiana is the home of the KKK. Now I don’t think it ever became an issue with the players of the time, but I had had a run in with the KKK when I was in Winston Salem, and that ended OK, but I certainly wanted to play in a city where that was not an issue, so I returned to the NBA and went on to play for the Kicks and win that title.
Do you think the players of today understand what you and your contemporaries did for them?
I think they have more of an appreciation now, yes. Players like LeBron and Kobe and Dwayne Wade and Amare and Melo certainly get it and have more respect and understanding about what we went through, and a lot of that has to do with the work the NBA has done in educating the players of today.
How is the NBA of today different?
So many ways and a lot of that has to do with the way David Stern and the league market the game. It is now a global brand more than just a sport, and it continues to grow. The exposure, the events, the global appeal, they are all things we helped create as players in our time, but the vision of the league is what raised it to where it is today.
You had some great coaches around you, from Bighouse Gaines to Gene Shue and Red Holzman. Any players today you think will make good coaches?
Yes, Jason Kidd and Ray Allen especially. Bog students of the game and they continue to make all those around them better. They display class, professionalism and a great knowledge, so if they chose to go there I think they will do well.
Speaking of doing well, you have had a number of interesting paths in business after retiring. What are you working on right now?
I have a hand in NBA Candy, which is going really well and continue to dabble in music which is another passion of mine, and I will do promotional work for companies like Merck from time to time. I have battled some health problems over the years so I can speak from experience for sure!
You spent your whole NBA career in Baltimore and New York, any other place you wish you could have played?
At the end there were rumors that the Lakers wanted me to help mentor a young Magic Johnson but it never worked out. I think being part of Showtime at the end would have been very fitting given my game, but other than that I loved the two cities I played in, along with Philly of course.
You played in the legendary Baker League in Philly, was that different than what people think of when they hear about Rucker Park in New York?
Well for one it was inside, and I think the stile was a little different. the games were and still are just as intense and I think Philly basketball can hold its own against any city. The level of talent jas not really changed, i loved being a part of Philadelphia basketball and still do.
Many people have forgotten what a good city Baltimore was for the NBA, what was it like to play there?
It was a magical time because of the Colts, the Orioles and the Bullets. We were all at our near the top, and it has such a small town feel, everyone knew everyone else. Very blue collar, very fun and I don’t think that has changed much over the years. As athletes we would all hang out at Lenny Moore’s Sportsman’s Bar and did a lot of things together. I understand why the team moved, and Abe Pollin did a tremendous job in revitalizing Washington with the Verizon Center, but it us a shame ore of Baltimore’s NBA legacy has been forgotten.
It’s been 40 years since the Knicks won a title, could this be the year?
It could be, I really think this team if healthy can do some damage. They have beaten everyone they will have to face and that means a lot going into the late rounds of the playoffs. Miami is the defending champ and we know how good they are, but the Knicks definitely have as good a shot as they have had in a very long time. It’s exciting to be around those guys.