Catching Up With Earl Monroe

Can you explain the origin of your two legendary nicknames, Earl the Pearl and Black Jesus?

Earl “The Pearl” came from when I was in college my senior year. My first ten games of the season, I was averaging close to 50 points per game. A guy wrote a column and listed the scores of each game and the caption of the column was, “These are Earl’s pearls.” And from that, Earl “The Pearl.”

“Black Jesus” came out of the fact that when I was in Baltimore playing, guys on the team would just call me “Jesus” because I was supposed to be leading them to the Promised Land, and it just kind of carried over from there.

How do you feel about the dynamics of the game today–no handchecking, players not being able to be as emotional as they used to be without getting a technical–as compared to when you played?

The game has changed to make it more exciting and more accessible to fans. When I played, we did have handchecking, which restricted [a player's] movement. They’ve taken that away. A lot of other things they call tighter to allow the offense to roam more and be freer along the perimeter.

What do you feel the Knicks need in order to win the championship, whether it is players or the style of play, to get to the Promised Land?

A presence underneath and a lot more rebounding. If they’d get that and with the role players they have to establish themselves, basically they’d be in a position to start contending. You can’t go [into an opponent's arena], get rebounded every night, and rely on your offense. You need to be able to stop people and rebound the ball.

Given the current Knicks roster, do you see any long-term issues with shot distribution between Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire being that both are pure scorers?

No, I don’t see any real issue. You look at [Landry] Fields for what he was doing the first part of the year; his production will probably go down. But the ball will get into the hands of the guys who can do it, especially when it comes down to end of game situations. It’ll be in Billups’, Stoudemire’s, and Anthony’s hands. Then you have some reliable guys who can shoot the ball from the perimeter. You’ve got Williams who’s a pretty good three-point shooter and Walker has come into his own in getting more playing time.

We forget about #23 (Toney Douglas), who has been out there playing really good basketball lately. He’s been a good asset to this team.

About five years ago, you said that no one in the game reminded you of you. With the increase in guard talent the league has seen recently, has your opinion changed at all?

Not one iota. (Laughs)

When I look out, I see all the stuff I used to do just done in different ways but never all together. In a nutshell, my game was kind of unique. When I came in, no one actually played that way. The things I did, people were like “Oh shucks, he did that!” But now, those things are done everyday, just not the same way… with style and grace. (Laughs)

Would the teams of your era be able to compete with the top-caliber teams in the League today?

As far as the Knicks teams are concerned, I believe we could have been competitive with any team today mainly because we played defense. We had great outside shooters. We didn’t shoot the three-pointer back then but we had great shooters in DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas, Bill Bradley, Clyde, even myself and Henry Bibby. So we would have been very competitive in that way.

The most intangible part was that we were a thinking group. Everybody was a veteran and understood the game. We could think the game through. Of all the young guys coming into the game today, I think that’s one of the glaring pieces missing – understanding the game of basketball.

Your thoughts on super teams: Dwyane, LeBron, Chris Bosh. Now Amar’e and Carmelo?

For the cities those guys are playing in, I think it’s a good thing. (Laughs)

Everything comes in phases. You can’t get everyone on a team. Pretty soon things will start to spread back out. At one time, everybody wanted to come to New York. Once you got ESPN and all the media coverage, guys realized it wasn’t that important to be in New York. Fans would still grow to know who you are.

It’s all about phases and I don’t think this is something that’s going to continue because if you’re only going to have five teams with all the players then you’re not going to have a league.

If you had your selection to pick up any of the free agents at the end of this year or the 2012 season to place on the Knicks roster, who would you pick and why do you think they’d fit?

First guy that comes to my mind is Dwight Howard.

Yeah, that’s a good one.

(Laughs) If you pick up Dwight Howard with who the Knicks have now, I think you’re well on your way.

Do you think a Knicks team that gives up 109 points per game and plays virtually no defense has any chance of winning an NBA championship right now?

No. No chance. That’s one of the things I alluded to earlier. You have to have some kind of inside presence. Rebounding and interior defense is what is going to propel the team to win the championship.

With big guys now stepping out of the paint and onto the perimeter ala a European style, how do you feel about the diminished role of the big man in today’s NBA and teams without a post player anchoring the block?

Basically, the game got quicker.

Guys are getting up and down the floor a lot more. The addition of the three-point shot has opened up the game. Reality is you really don’t have a lot of back-to-the-basket centers anymore. Now at the same time, if you’ve got agile players, long players, and whatnot, you can get away from it.

If you look back to the 90′s when Chicago was doing it, they had Bill Cartwright but he wasn’t a dominant center, so they got away with it. They had Grant and Pippen who played good defense and got the ball out and got running… and they had that other guy. What’s his name? Oh, Michael Jordan. (Laughs)

On this [Knicks] team, if you just had a good center who could rebound and block shots, that’s all he’d need to do because you’ve already got enough firepower to move ahead. When you start going to Europe and getting guys out of there, they weren’t back-to-the-basket players. They were out there [on the perimeter] shooting three-pointers. And if you go all the way back you’ll see that most of your big guys always did want to shoot three pointers and come out from in the lane. This is just a natural progression. Pretty soon, you’ll have teams with just starting forwards. They’re not even going to be talking about centers anymore.

Catching Up With Bobby Hurley

Jeffrey Pillow of HOOPSADDICT.com talks to former Duke Blue Devils great Bobby Hurley, spokesman for the Dove Men’s Care campaign “Journey to Comfort.” Hurley was a member of Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s back-to-back NCAA Championship teams in 1991 and 1992, earning MVP honors for the latter campaign. He is the NCAA’s all-time leader in assists (1076) and appeared in the Final Four on three separate occasions.

Topics discussed include the role of his father, Bob Hurley, Sr. in shaping his mental and physical toughness on and off the court; avenging the 1990 defeat by the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels led by National Player of the Year Larry Johnson; playing under Coach K; which teams Hurley believes have a serious shot at cutting down the nets on April 4; his advice to young point guards across the land; and a few words of wisdom for soon-to-be dads.

Earl “The Pearl” Monroe Talks About The People’s Games

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.

Tryouts will begin Sunday, March 13, 2011, for residents of New York City. Find your location here.

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.

Williams Won’t Be A Net For Long

Whether the media reports that Deron Williams played a key role in Jerry Sloan filing his retirement papers midway through the season have any factual basis or not, it was time Williams moved on from Salt Lake. And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say, the career of the NBA’s longest tenured coach at 23 years, a man as synonymous with the phrase “pick and roll” as peanut butter is to jelly.

For Williams to stay, particularly had Williams signed an extension at year’s end, it would have meant a career mired with the constant whispers and accusations correlating him with Sloan’s abrupt departure. Neither Sloan nor Williams deserve their names to be dragged through the mud of the rumor mill.

A clean break was needed; and while I find it hard to believe a single player could have forced the hand of the stern Sloan to balk or walk, in turn walking, the ultimate decision rested with Sloan alone. It appears from those looking from the outside in that Sloan’s frustration may have had more to do with management trading away key pieces (Boozer, Matthews, Korver) in the 2010 offseason and not picking up others to place Utah in better contention with the familiar Western powers of the Lakers, Spurs, and emerging Oklahoma City Thunder.

Now Williams is with an abysmal New Jersey Nets team at the bottom of the East. In “Developing a Dynamic Duo Takes Time,” Yannis Koutroupis of HOOPSWORLD writes how “the New Jersey Nets hit a homerun at the deadline by acquiring All-Star point guard Deron Williams.”

But did they?

While predicting a player’s future is no more than a guessing game at best, I have strong doubts Williams will stay with New Jersey past the end of the 2011-12 NBA season. Williams is a competitor. His will to succeed seems far too great to be the face of a franchise, along with the talented 7’0″ Brook Lopez, at the very start of a rebuilding process.

Because let’s face it, that is exactly what it is.

Will Mikhail Prokhorov find a way to lure other big name talents to town? What other players even seem poised to land in New Jersey in the near future who won’t be gobbled up by the likes of Miami, Boston, Chicago, and now New York with the Carmelo trade. David West? Greg Oden? Tim Duncan? Tony Parker? Nick Young? Joakim Noah? Glen Davis? Tayshaun Prince? Jamal Crawford? Who?

In all likelihood, the Deron Williams run in New Jersey will end before any homeruns are hit, maybe even before a single can be had. With the sun setting on the careers of Derek Fisher (Los Angeles Lakers) and Jason Kidd (Dallas Mavericks) in the West, you’ll see with these two franchises GMs looking to surround their already existing talent with an essential piece to the puzzle; and that key piece to continuing success is none other than Deron Williams.

Williams, as Charles Barkley noted, is “the best point guard in the NBA. Period.”

He has the size, strength, and athletic ability to score on one end and defend on the other. Not Chris Paul or Steve Nash, who often overshadow Williams, offers that package.

Don’t hold your breath on Williams signing an extension Nets fans. He’s only a Net for now. Enjoy it while you can.

Anthony’s Only Destination Is Mediocrity

Whereas LeBron James’ ESPN televised decision was one of the most pompous displays of egomaniacal self-importance in the history of sports, the viewer could still walk away with at least an alternate conclusion as to why James did what he did: the man wants to win an NBA title.

Carmelo Anthony, on the other hand, I’m not so sure about.

In “Carmelo Anthony: Why He’ll Never Win a Title No Matter Where He Goes,” Elliott Pohnl of Bleacher Report delves out 10 reasons why the 14-karat ring will always elude #15. What Pohnl fails to expand on, however, are Anthony’s two most likely destinations, New York or New Jersey, neither of which has the personnel to place Anthony and his respective team at the upper-echelon of the NBA’s elite come playoff time.

Although Amar’e Stoudemire is an offensive juggernaut, he has never lived up to his athletic ability on the defensive end, particularly on the glass, averaging just 8.6 rpg for his career, and never once reaching the 10 rpg threshold in a single season for a player his size.

But it isn’t so much Stoudemire as it is the coach in place for New York. Mike D’Antoni has forever been lambasted for his lack of strategy on the defensive end. The comparisons between Denver and New York offensively and defensively are eerily similar with Denver averaging 107.58 HME per game and their opponents 105.16, while New York puts up 106.24 points per contest and their opponents 105.80. Not even the dismal Cleveland Cavaliers allow their opponents to drop as many points on them as New York. Topping out the list are the Minnesota Timberwolves at 107.95 — not exactly great company to be sitting beside if you’re wearing the Knickerbocker orange and blue.

While the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets aren’t lying on the bottom rung of the NBA’s gutter this year, a record of 17-40 (already five games better than all of 2009-10), isn’t exactly giving their fans playoff fever. About the only thing worth watching at the Prudential Center in Newark is the dance squad.

Let me repeat: about the only thing worth watching at the Prudential Center in Newark is the dance squad. Seriously, have you seen these girls scantily wrapped in what appears to be black electric tape? At least there is a logical reason some fans do still buy tickets and attend games.

Other than Brook Lopez and Devon Harris, (most likely the trade will send Derrick Favors packing), how is a move to the Nets any upgrade over where Carmelo stands right now; or, any closer to where he would hope to be in the next three years? Damion Jones, Stephen Graham, Johan Petro, and Ben Uzoh probably won’t be delivering Mikhail Prokhorov a title as a supporting cast, no matter how many yachts he could ever promise them. These four are more likely to be delivering pizzas for Grimaldi’s of Hoboken in the coming years than New Jersey/Brooklyn a Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Just saying.

Yet these are the two most likely destinations for the former Syracuse star. At least LeBron had the courage to inflame an entire city and declare that he wanted to put himself in position to win and for multiple years. “The major decision,” James said during his conversation with Jim Gray on July 8, 2010, “was the ability to win now and win in the future.”

While I don’t blame Denver for trying to get their money’s worth in a trade, it appears Carmelo is simply content in going to a mediocre or average team at best. If it all pans out like the reports say, he’ll get just that.