I had the fortunate opportunity to speak with the legendary Earl “The Pearl” Monroe on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.
Named one of The 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, Monroe was selected by the Baltimore Bullets with the 2nd overall pick in the 1967 NBA Draft from Winston-Salem St., where he averaged 41.7 points per game his senior year under legendary head coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines.
In 1990, Monroe was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Topics discussed on our call include Monroe’s recent venture into The People’s Games, an athletic competition pitting one city against the other, the first two contenders being New York City and Los Angeles; the current state of the NBA; the New York Knicks and their chances at returning a title back to the Big Apple; and even the origins of Monroe’s two most famous nicknames: “The Pearl” and “Black Jesus;” et al.
Monroe will coach the New York squad and be joined on the pine by his daughter, Maya, a former member of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2001-04) as they face off against former All-American standout at UCLA and NCAA champion under John Wooden, Lucius Allen.
On how he got involved: Actually, Lucius Allen had been talking about this to me and he put the people who started the Games in touch with me. The Games are a new venture and the founder, a guy by the name of Armyan Bernstein (Air Force One, Children of Men), who is a respected film industry executive, and Terry Jastrow (winner of seven Emmy awards), who is the Commissioner, who was at ABC Sports, they conceptualized the Games and got in touch with me, and we had a meeting and I just thought it was something that would be very exciting for everybody involved.
We’re going to be giving back to the Parks departments and we’re going to be doing a lot of things that are going to open up a lot of eyes. This is actually just the beginning. This is basically the introduction of The Games. They are also going to be branching off to do soccer, baseball, football, things of that nature. But basketball is a much more contained sport and it’s one that we’re going after first.
On how The People’s Games compare on an amateur level to playing professionally: I think it’s going to be as competitive. First of all, you’ve got two guys (me and Lucius) that are coaching the teams that are going to be competitive and that were competitive with each other when we played. And add to that, it’s all about bragging rights. We’ve got to be able to beat LA and what they call “out in LaLa Land.” We’re just more hardcore, and I think that’s going to be our biggest advantage – the fact that we’re used to playing under certain circumstances and whatnot, and conditions, and when we put it out on the floor, we’ll just kind of run, and we’ll think about those times in the early 70′s, but these guys are going to take it and make a name of it in early 2011.
On sponsors and keeping the game pure: The only [community organization involved] is the Parks Department. This is completely funded and conceptualized by Armyan Bernstein and Terry Jastrow. This is something they wanted to keep as pure as possible and make sure they weren’t going to be influenced by sponsors or anything of that nature; so consequently, this is being done this way so that we can go back to the time when we were just playing for the love of game and for the thrill of victory (laughs).
For more information on The People’s Games and to find out how you can register, visit www.peoplesgames.com. Stay tuned for the rest of my conversation with Earl “The Pearl” in coming segments.