Earl Monroe Rumors

It’s been a tough go recently for “Earl The Pearl,” who has had six knee operations since July. But he quickly warmed to the topic of Jackson back in the Big Apple in a front-office role. The Post has reported Jackson is “real close’’ to agreeing to come back. “It would be something if he could bring this franchise back to a championship,’’ Monroe told The Post. “That would solidify his position as an all-time great — not that he isn’t already — but it would make it come full circle.
Truth be told, the game’s stars have been trying to do the same thing for many decades. Yet, while contemporary players essentially choose between several good options, the issues facing the best players in the ’70s were a little more immediate and pressing. Like, say, worrying about the Ku Klux Klan. That’s not an exaggeration. As Earl Monroe explains in his new book “Earl the Pearl: My Story,” the Indiana Pacers, then an ABA franchise, had expressed interest in acquiring him from the NBA’s Washington Bullets in October 1971. Looking for a new team as the Bullets waffled on trading him, Monroe was intrigued by the offer and visited Indianapolis to get a sense of the franchise and the environment. That’s when he learned it might not be a great fit.
Earl Monroe: “So I went to the game and the Pacers won. Then, after the game, I went back to meet the Pacers’ players in the locker room. I liked them, too. But then, after they had showered and dressed, all the black players reached up over their lockers and starting bringing guns down. I was shocked to see this and asked, “Why do you guys have guns?” “They got Ku Klux Klan everywhere around here outside Indianapolis and in the city, too,” one of the players said. “So we got guns to protect ourselves.”
Earl Monroe has a new book coming out on Tuesday where he talks in detail about his career. That includes how he forced his way out of Washington to ultimately end up with the Knicks. But before New York called he almost ended up in the ABA with the Pacers, something he talks about in an excerpt from the book published on Deadspin Monday. Monroe wasn’t sold on the deal at first but started to warm up to it. There was a trade offer on the table and Monroe went to Indiana to meet the players.
The players from the 1972-73 team were honored at Friday’s Knicks game and will be recalled again Sunday when MSG replays Game 5 of the ’73 Finals against the Lakers — thanks to an unlikely story of discovery and recovery. (More on that later.) Frazier lamented that the 1973 Knicks had been somewhat overlooked compared with ’70 “because of the hoopla with Willis [Reed] and the way he came out in Game 7, and we won it at home.” When I asked which team was better, he said without hesitation it was 1973, a deeper, more versatile squad. One of the biggest reasons was sitting beside him: Earl Monroe. The occasion was a luncheon at Frazier’s restaurant, Clyde Frazier’s Wine & Dine, near the Garden at which the former backcourt mates watched parts of that title-clinching 102-93 victory at the Forum on May 10, 1973. Both men acknowledged it was a somewhat surreal experience to watch their far younger selves sometimes play less well than memory suggested, but well enough to dethrone the defending champs. Said Monroe: “When you think back on the game, you don’t [remember] all the mistakes that were made . . . But the reason we won is we just had better players.”
Share some of the benefits you’ve realized from adjusting your lifestyle. Did you discover new food favorites? New ways to exercise? Earl Monroe: I have started to enjoy a better way of life with my eating habits and now have more energy to do the things that I enjoy. MerckDiabetes.com is a great resource with tips on physical activity and healthy restaurant choices, my favorite diabetes-friendly and heart-healthy recipes, and information on the basics of diabetes management: blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol control, which can help reduce risk for heart disease. Is there a psychological component to living with diabetes? It’s a condition that would seem to consume some with worry. At first I was worried about my diagnosis with diabetes, but once I talked with my doctor, I found that I could live with diabetes and still enjoy life by taking small steps toward a healthier lifestyle.
Earl Monroe’s oddball dribbling and spin-dry cycle gave everybody fits, of course, but “what people don’t realize,” Taylor told me centuries ago following a Baker League-Rucker Tournament summer all-star game at Fordham, “is how hard he hits when he backs into you. He hurts. And while your body is still stiffened up, he uses it to pivot around you and ad-lib.” Sadly, the thousands upon thousands of abrupt stops, painful rear-enders and wicked twists — in addition to external and internal pressure to play injured, the mindset of the times when jobs were scarce and money was scant — on the toll road ravaged Monroe’s body.
Today, the 67-year-old original “Magic,” “Pearl” and “Black Jesus” will undergo his 30th sobering surgical procedure, approximates Marita Green. “This will be his fifth on his back and neck area,” said his wife, indicating he will need at least a couple more. “He’s also had five hip replacements. Amazingly, his knees were never operated on, but he told me the other day they’re starting to bother him.”
Still, Monroe, crazy as it sounded, was conflicted, because what he really wanted was to stay with the Bullets and get paid, too. He called Jerry Krause, who had scouted and befriended him, to vent; Krause was now working for the Bulls in Chicago. “Those bastards don’t think I’ll give up my game,” he told Krause. “They think I’m a loser. Well, f— them. I’m a winner. I’ll give it up. Walt can get the glory, and if they need me in the fourth quarter, I’ll be ready.”
In the backseat of a taxi on the day the trade was announced, Phil Jackson — whom Mike Riordan had introduced to “blue-collar New York” — told Bill Bradley he had doubts the experiment would work. Bradley, a fan of Monroe’s going back to their summer league shootout in Philadelphia, told him he was nuts. “Earl will fit right in,” Bradley said. “He’s a hell of a player.” When Abe Pollin finally agreed to the deal that sent Monroe to New York, Monroe was shocked. He was intrigued by the idea of seeing his act on the Garden stage, if a little concerned about how it would play. Larry Fleisher told him not to worry: his ship had come in, with a new contract that would be worth about $200,000 a season for three years, with an option for a fourth.
In ’73, the Knicks faced the Lakers again and the exact opposite result happened, the Knicks dropping the first game before winning the next four to give the franchise its second championship in four years. (Game 5 was Wilt Chamberlain’s last in the NBA, and he scored the final two points of the series on an uncontested breakaway dunk with a second remaining). “I think the first year I wore it all the time, and then the next year only when it made sense,” Monroe said of his championship ring. “I never really wore a lot of jewelry, and then I got to a point where I looked at the ring as a symbol of the team, and that’s kind of how I wore it. I felt this was an accomplishment, but the accomplishment of it was for the team, and that’s why I probably wear the Top 50 ring more, because that’s more of an individual accomplishment.”
Most recently, the ring spent several years stored in a box in Monroe’s closet before he and his wife dug it out to tell the stories behind it in an interview with ESPNNewYork.com. “I hadn’t planned to wear it again until the Knicks won another championship, but my wife convinced me that it looked good on me and I needed to start wearing it again,” Monroe said a day after the interview, when he was spotted wearing the ring at a summer programming party for MSG Network, where Monroe worked as an on-camera analyst during the Knicks’ playoff loss to the Celtics in April.