Profile | Earl Monroe, the pearl of Philadelphia

If Ray Allen had the nickname Jesus, it would be a small thank you to him.

The scene takes place in the movie “He Got Game”, by Spike Lee. Jake Shuttlesworth, played by Denzel Washington, chats with his son Jesus, played by Ray Allen. The discussion focuses on the origin of the first name Jesus, the subject of a fight at the beginning of the film between two men.

Jake then explained that his favorite player was named Earl Monroe and was his nickname during his years in the playground of Philadelphia is Jesus. Hence the name of his son.

The reference is pointed, but no less important: Earl Monroe achieved a victory, which remains in everyone’s mind without any legendary performance or crazy statistics. In fact, he marks the spirits with the only thing that really matters, namely the earth.

Not easy, in a league once dominated by a Kareem Abdul Jabbar or some big scorers like Julius Erving, Rick Barry and George Gervin…

The legend of playgrounds

Vernon Earl Monroe was born on November 21, 1944, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He grew up in South Philly and, at a young age, he loved sports. Not basketball, but baseball, or even traditional football. Apart from his height of 1m91 at the age of only 14, many orange ball coaches are interested in his profile…

His association with basketball was so great that he became a fan of this sport. He was then pushed to be the pivot on his team, a position he would often occupy in his youth.

At the same time, Earl Monroe perfected his game playground of Philadelphia and his reputation grew, so much so that he was nicknamed Black Jesus. Legend even says that his real nickname was Jesus, but the mostly white media created a distinction by putting the adjective black. What did Black Jesus become?

During his high school years at John Bartram, and to describe his immense offensive game, his teammates called him Thomas Edison, in reference to the American inventor.

Then Earl Monroe turned to the small black faculty of Winston-Salem State, based in North Carolina, about 145 kilometers from a certain college in Chapel Hill. The future of… Michael Jordan.

The Philadelphia native thrives there every year. This is proven by his average points: 7.1 points in freshman23.2 as sophomore and 29.8 points in junior.

Coach Clarence Gaines, a member of the Hall of Fame since 1982, became an important father figure in the eyes of Earl Monroe and, in his year senior, his most famous nickname was coined by a local journalist. The original expression was “Earl’s Pearls”, a plural used by the author to describe his amazing way of scoring his points. History will remember “The Pearl”, or the pearl in French.

In fact, in 1966/67, “Earl the Pearl” averaged 41.5 points per game, was voted the best player in the country and led his college to the NCAA title.

His Bullet years

Thanks to his impressive performance in college, Earl Monroe was selected by the Baltimore Bullets in the 2nd position in the 1967 Draft, behind Jimmy Walker, the father of Jalen Rose.

He had a very good campaign, averaging 24.3 points, the 13th best performance in history for a rookie, with a particularly high 56 units against the Lakers. In his recovery, the Bullets won 16 more games than the previous season.

The following year, Earl Monroe confirmed his great rookie season by climbing to 25.8 points per game, the best mark of his career. In addition to his individual talent, Baltimore has built an impressive team around him. He was so good that he won 57 matches.

The elements of this success are multiple. First of all, the pivot Wes Unseld, author of 13.8 points and 18.2 rebounds on average, became the rookie of the year and MVP, a very rare event in history, since only Wilt Chamberlain succeeded in this, in 1960. Since then, no one has succeeded in it. equal to this performance!

Then there were some great talents in the league at the time, like Gus Johnson, Jack Marin and Kevin Loughhery, all backed by a superb run-and-gun and the amazing defensive presence of Wes Unseld.

The Bullets reached the semi-finals of the division, it took time, because the cut to the conference would not appear until 1970, but their hopes were dashed by the Knicks, causing a sweep. Rebel the following year, but this time, Baltimore lost in Game 7, still against New York, the eventual champion.

In 1970/71, Earl Monroe discovered the Finals against the Bucks, but the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Oscar Robertson duo is too strong and this series ends after 4 short games…

The future therefore seems bright for the Bullets as, with some good additional selections, the title is not impossible to win. However, salary problems strained the relationship between “The Pearl” and its franchise.

On November 10, 1971, after only 3 games, the unthinkable happened: the combo guard was transferred to the Knicks, the sworn enemy, against Mike Riordan, Dave Stallworth and cash.

His time in New York

Earl Monroe came to New York averaging 23.7 points in four full seasons in Baltimore. Then he found his best opponent and fellow Draft, Walt Frazier.

Since 1967, Monroe has actually faced Frazier 21 times and “The Pearl’s” offensive game has always been tested by “Clyde’s” legendary defense. But this move also raises some questions: how the two men can live together and, more importantly, how to integrate into the Knicks’ perfect collective game an offensive talent that is so strong but demanding balls ?

Earl Monroe had some difficulties with the marriage. He carries the ball less and becomes less efficient. In addition, he suffered from knee and ankle problems, ultimately playing only 60 games, averaging 21 minutes, which dropped him to 12 points per game. Despite everything, New York reached the Finalsbut Los Angeles won in 5 rounds.

Then in the second season, the transplant took off, “The Pearl” scored an average of 15.5 points and its relationship with Walt Frazier was described as the Rolls Royce of backcourt. The Knicks won 57 games and Monroe found the Bullets in the playoffs and won the series in 5 games. Then, the New Yorkers eliminated the Celtics, however the favorite, to find the Lakers for the third confrontation at the Stade des Finals.

Earl Monroe scored 23 points in the victorious Game 5 and the Knicks won the second title in their history, three years after 1970. But this victory was too late for New York, as the 1968 Rookie of the Year saw all of his teammates retired each season, and even Walt Frazier moved to Cleveland in 1977.

Finding himself alone in command, “The Pearl” regained his offensive sensations, with three new campaigns at 20 points per game, but his two exercises ended with an early vacation. He retired in 1980, at the age of 35, and then became a manager in the music industry, before returning to basketball as a commentator.

A virtuoso of the game

In 1989, Earl Monroe joined the Hall of Fame and became one of the 50 best players in NBA history in 1996. Ultimate tribute on December 1, 2007: the Washington Wizards (formerly Baltimore) retired his number 10.

But what will remain in “The Pearl” is the virtuosity of his playing. round motion is perfect and his offensive imagination knows no bounds. But he’s also a very talented player, arriving in New York already branded maestro one-on-one, and he was able to join the Knicks game, becoming one of the darlings of Madison Square Garden.

Earl Monroe thus played in a very poor manner, often preferring to pass the ball to a prominent teammate, who was also gifted with better defensive involvement, to relieve Walt Frazier. An exceptional professional and a legend of the game…


926 games in 13 seasons
18.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.3 steals average
46.4% shooting, 80.7% free throws


Hall of Famer
Member of the NBA Top 75
NBA champion in 1973
All NBA First Team in 1969
Rookie of the Year in 1968
All-Star in 1969, 1971, 1975 and 1977

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