Earl Monroe (born on November 21, 1944, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), is a former American professional basketball player known for his flamboyant dribbling, passing and play-making. His nicknames included both "Earl The Pearl" and his Philadelphia nickname, "Black Jesus".
The Pearl could orchestrate a dazzling show on the basketball court. You'll find few basketball fans anywhere who don't fondly recall Monroe's twisting, spinning, faking, double-pumping, spin-dribbling moves as a member of the Baltimore Bullets and New York Knicks. Known for his flamboyant style, Monroe ignited both his teammates and fans wherever he played and whenever he stepped onto the court. His high school teammates at John Bartram High School called him "Thomas Edison" because of the many moves he invented while playing hour upon hour on the rough-and-tumble Philadelphia playgrounds.
Monroe rose to prominence at the Division II school playing basketball at Winston-Salem State University, located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Under the tutelage of the late Hall of Fame coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines at Winston-Salem, Monroe's collegiate career was a case study in improvement. He averaged 7.1 points his freshman year, 23.2 points as a sophomore, 29.8 points as a junior and 41.5 points his senior year. During his spectacular 1967 senior season, Monroe set the small college record for total points in one year (1,329), earned NCAA College Division II Player of the Year honors and led the Rams to the NCAA College Division II Championship.
In 1967, the two-time All-America was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets (now the Washington Wizards) in the first round of the NBA draft (2nd overall pick) and made an immediate impact, earning NBA Rookie of the Year honors. In Baltimore, Monroe teamed with Hall of Famer Wes Unseld and led a Baltimore offense that featured one of the most spectacular fast breaks in the NBA. It was during The Pearl's Baltimore years that he became a cult hero.
On February 6, 1970, he set an NBA record with 13 points in one overtime in a double overtime victory over the Detroit Pistons: Its now the 2nd best ever.
In 1971, Monroe was traded to the talent-laden New York Knicks. He and Hall of Famer Walt Frazier were a celebrity backcourt and the duo gradually meshed together to form a formidable tandem full of razzle dazzle and spectacular, but fundamentally sound basketball. With Monroe, the Knicks won the 1973 NBA championship.
A four-time NBA All-Star, Monroe retired after the 1980 season due to serious knee injuries, which plagued Monroe throughout his career. He had played 926 NBA career games, scored 17,454 total points (18.8 ppg) and dished out 3,594 assists. Monroe, who transformed the game into an exhilarating art form, had his number 15 jersey retired by the Knicks on March 1, 1986.
He scored over 1,000 points in 9 professional seasons (1968-71, 1973,1975-78) including a career high 2,065 (25.8 points per game) in the 1968-69 season.
In 1967, he won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award in a season that included scoring 56 points in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, the third-highest rookie total in NBA history at the time.
In 1990, he was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Monroe was named one of the 50 players on the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996.
Monroe was chosen commissioner of the United States Basketball League in 1985.
In recent years, he has been serving as a commentator for Madison Square Garden and as commissioner of the New Jersey Urban Development Corporation.
Monroe has also been active in various community affairs and programs, including the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Health, the Crown Heights Youth Collective, the Literary Assistance Fund and the Harlem Junior Tennis Program. He has received many honors for these "off-the-court" community activities, including the Harlem Professionals Inspirational Award, Most Outstanding Model for American Youth, the YMCA Citizenship Award and Big Apple Sportsman of the Year Award.
He also served as a spokesman for the American Heart Association, along with his former Knicks teammate, Walt "Clyde" Frazier.
In October, 2005 Monroe opened a restaurant in New York City, named "Earl Monroe's Restaurant & Pearl Club".