Earl Monroe

Last updated

Earl Monroe
Monroe in 2013
Personal information
Born (1944-11-21) November 21, 1944 (age 75)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Listed height6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Listed weight185 lb (84 kg)
Career information
High school John Bartram
(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
College Winston-Salem State (1963–1967)
NBA draft 1967 / Round: 1 / Pick: 2nd overall
Selected by the Baltimore Bullets
Playing career1967–1980
Position Shooting guard / Point guard
Number33, 10, 15
Career history
19671971 Baltimore Bullets
19711980 New York Knicks
Career highlights and awards
Career statistics
Points 17,454 (18.8 ppg)
Rebounds 2,796 (3.0 rpg)
Assists 3,594 (3.9 apg)
Stats at Basketball-Reference.com
Basketball Hall of Fame as player
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2006

Vernon Earl Monroe (born November 21, 1944) is an American former professional basketball player. He played for two teams, the Baltimore Bullets and the New York Knicks, during his career in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Both teams have retired Monroe's number. Due to his on-court success and flashy style-of-play, Monroe was given the nicknames "Black Jesus" and "Earl the Pearl". Monroe was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990.


Early years

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Monroe was a playground legend from an early age. His high school teammates at John Bartram High School called him "Thomas Edison" because of the many moves he invented.

Growing up in his South Philadelphia neighborhood, Monroe was initially interested in soccer and baseball more than basketball . By age 14, Monroe was 6'3" and his interest in basketball grew, playing center during most of his youth. Some of his "shake-and-bake" style moves originated while playing on the asphalt playgrounds. "I had to develop flukey-duke shots, what we call la-la, hesitating in the air as long as possible before shooting," Monroe said. [1] As he was developing as a teenage player, other players would razz him. His mother gave Earl a blue notebook and told him to write down the names of those players. "As you get better than them," Monroe said his mother instructed, "I want you to scratch those names out." [2]

After graduating from Jonn Bartram High School, Monroe attended a college preparatory school affiliated with Temple University. He worked as a shipping clerk in a factory, while frequently playing basketball at Leon Whitley's recreation center in Philadelphia. Whitley had played at Winston-Salem Teacher College on their 1953 championship team and encouraged Monroe to attend Winston-Salem to play for coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines. [3]

College career

Monroe rose to prominence at a national level at then-Division II Winston-Salem State University, located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Under Hall of Fame Coach Gaines, Monroe averaged 7.1 points his freshman year and Monroe tells a story of when he wanted to return to Philadelphia as a freshman. Coach Gaines called Monroe's mother and after a stern talk, Monroe stayed in college. [4]

Monroe then averaged 23.2 points as a sophomore, 29.8 points as a junior and an amazing 41.5 points his senior year (1,329 points in that 1966–1967 season). During that 1966–1967 season, Jerry McLeese, a sportswriter for the Winston-Salem Journal , called Monroe's points "Earl's pearls." [5] Soon after, fans began to chant "Earl, the Super Pearl," and the nickname was born. [6] [3]

In 1967, Monroe earned NCAA College Division Player of the Year honors, leading the Rams to the 1967 NCAA College Division Championship with a 77–74 victory over SW Missouri State in the Final. [6]

Overall, in his four years at Winston-Salem State University, Monroe averaged 26.7 points, with 2,395 total points in 110 games. [6] He remains the leading scorer in CIAA basketball history. [7]

After he finished his collegiate career, Monroe graduated from Winston-Salem and passed the national teaching exam. Monroe wasn't selected to the 1967 USA Basketball Team to represent the country at the 1967 Pan-American Games after trying out. The 40-person committee failed to select both Monore and fellow future Hall of Fame player Elvin Hayes. [8] [3] [9] [10] Monroe has said that USA coaches said his style of play was "too street, too playground, too black." adding, "It has always left a very, very bad taste in my mouth." [2]

NBA career

Baltimore Bullets (1967–1971)

In 1967, the two-time All-American was drafted No. two overall by the Baltimore Bullets (now the Washington Wizards) in the first round of the 1967 NBA draft, behind Jimmy Walker, who was selected by the Detroit Pistons. Monroe then won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award in a season in which he averaged 24.3 points per game. He scored 56 points in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, the third-highest rookie total in NBA history. It was also a franchise record, later broken by Gilbert Arenas on December 17, 2006.

Monroe and teammate, future Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Wes Unseld, quickly became a formidable combination in Baltimore, and Monroe became a cult hero for his ability to run the fast break and for his circus-like shots. He said, "The thing is, I don't know what I'm going to do with the ball, and if I don't know, I'm quite sure the guy guarding me doesn't know either." [11] On February 6, 1970, he set an NBA record with 13 points in one overtime in a double-overtime victory over the Detroit Pistons (another mark since surpassed by Arenas).

In 1968–1969, Monroe averaged 25.8 points, 4.5 assists and 3.9 rebounds, as the Bullets finished 57–25 under coach Gene Shue, capturing the Eastern Division title. However, the Bullets were swept by the New York Knicks 4–0 in the playoffs after receiving a bye. [12]

The Bullets finished 50–32 in 1969–1970, as Monroe averaged 23.4 points, 4.9 assists and 3.1 rebounds, making the NBA All-Star team. The Bullets were again beaten by the Knicks 4–3 in the playoffs. [13]

In 1970–1971, the Bullets finished 42–40 under Coach Shue and captured the Central Division title. Monroe averaged 21.4 points, 4.4 assists and 2.6 rebounds. In the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Bullets defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 4–3, and then defeated the Knicks 4–3 in the Eastern Conference Finals to reach the 1971. NBA Finals. [14] Monroe averaged 23.0 points, 4.0 assists and 3.4 rebounds in the Philadelphia series. [15] He then averaged 24.4 points, 4.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds against the Knicks, including 26 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds in Game 7's 93–91 Bullets victory. [16] [17]

In the 1971 NBA Finals, the Bullets were matched against the Milwaukee Bucks with Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and Bobby Dandridge. The Bucks swept the Bullets 4–0. Monroe averaged 16.3 points, 4.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds in the series. [18]

"Put a basketball in his hands and he does wondrous things with it," Bullets Coach Gene Shue said of Monroe. "He has the greatest combination of basketball ability and showmanship." [19]

After the 1970–1971 season, Monroe's agent Larry Fleischer told the Bullets of Monroe's wishes to be traded to the Lakers, Bulls, or Sixers. After four games into the 1971–1972 season, he traveled to Indianapolis to discuss a transfer to the American Basketball Association's Indiana Pacers. [20] Monroe was then traded on November 10, 1971, with Monroe going from the Bullets to the New York Knicks for Mike Riordan, Dave Stallworth and cash. [6]

In 328 games with the Bullets, Monroe averaged 23.7 points, 4.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds. [6]

New York Knicks (1971–1980)

In 1971, Monroe was traded to the New York Knicks and formed what was known as the "Rolls Royce Backcourt" with the equally flamboyant Walt Frazier. While there were initial questions as to whether Monroe and Frazier could coexist as teammates, the duo eventually meshed to become one of the most effective guard combinations of all time.

In 1971–1972, Monroe averaged 21.7 points in his three games with the Bullets before the trade and he struggled to adjust after the trade, averaging 11.4 points, 2.2 assists and 1.5 rebounds in 60 Knick games. [6] However, the Knicks defeated the Bullets 4–2 and the Boston Celtics 4–1 to reach the 1972 NBA Finals. Monroe averaged 15.8 points and 3.3 assists in the Bullets series against his former teammates. [21] In the Celtics series he averaged 13.6 points and 3.8 assists. [22]

In the 1972 NBA Finals, the Knicks were defeated by the Los Angeles Lakers with Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain 4–1, losing four straight after winning Game 1. Monroe averaged 6.8 points and 2.6 assists in the series. [23]

In 1972–1973, Frazier and Monroe lead the Knicks, under future Hall of Fame Coach Red Holtzman to the 1973 NBA Championship, along with future Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame teammates Bill Bradley, Jerry Lucas and Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere and Phil Jackson. [24]

After a 57–25 regular season, in which Monroe averaged 15.5 points, 3.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds, Monroe had his role on the team defined. The Knicks then defeated the Bullets 4–1 and the Celtics 4–3 to reach the 1973 NBA Finals. [24] [25]

In the NBA Finals, the Knicks had a rematch against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Knicks won the Championship with a 4–1 series win and 16.0 points and 4.2 assists from Monroe in the series. Bradley averaged 18.6, Frazier 16.6, Reed 16.4 and DeBusschere 15.6 to illustrate the Knicks' true team play. [26]

In 1973–1974, the Knicks, after defeating the Bullets, were defeated by the eventual NBA Champion Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Monroe averaged 14.0 points and 2.7 assists with 3.0 rebounds in the regular season. [27]

In the next four seasons, Monroe averaged 20.9 points, 20.7 points, 19.9 points and 17.8 points, before injures limited him in games and minutes during his final two seasons.

The Monroe-Frazier pairing is one of few backcourts ever to feature two Hall of Famers and NBA 50th Anniversary Team members. A four-time NBA All-Star, Monroe retired after the 1980 season due to serious knee injuries, which had plagued him throughout his career. In nine seasons and 592 games with the Knicks, Monroe averaged 16.2 points, 3.5 assists and 2.6 rebounds. [6]

Overall, Monroe played in 926 NBA career games, scoring 17,454 total points with 3,594 assists on 46% shooting. He averaged 18.8 points, 3.9 assists and 3.0 rebounds in his career. Monroe scored over 1,000 points in nine of his thirteen professional seasons (1968–71, 1973, 1975–78) including a career high 2,065 (25.8 points per game) in the 1968–69 season. [6]

Of his unique, flowing, fluid, silky-smooth on-court style of play, Monroe has said: "You know, I watch the games and even now I never see anyone who reminds me of me, the way I played." [28] "The ultimate playground player," is how Bill Bradley once described Monroe. [1]

"If for any reason someone were to remember me," Monroe said, "I hope they will remember me as a person who could play the game and excite the fans and excite himself." [19]

Personal Life


NBA career statistics

  GPGames played  GS Games started MPG Minutes per game
 FG%  Field goal percentage 3P%  3-point field goal percentage FT%  Free throw percentage
 RPG  Rebounds per game APG  Assists per game SPG  Steals per game
 BPG  Blocks per game PPG Points per game Bold Career high
  Won an NBA championship

Regular season

1967–68 Baltimore 8236.7.453.7815.74.324.3
1968–69 Baltimore 8038.4.440.7683.54.925.8
1969–70 Baltimore 8237.2.446.8303.14.923.4
1970–71 Baltimore 8135.1.442.8022.64.421.4
1971–72 Baltimore 334.3.406.7222.73.321.7
1971–72 New York 6020.6.436.7861.52.211.4
1972–73 New York 7531.6.488.8223.33.815.5
1973–74 New York 4129.1.468.8233.
1974–75 New York 7836.1.457.8274.
1975–76 New York 7638.0.478.7873.
1976–77 New York 7734.5.517.8392.
1977–78 New York 7631.2.495.8322.
1978–79 New York 6421.8.471.8381.
1979–80 New York 5112.4.457.875.


1969 Baltimore 442.8.386.8065.34.028.3
1970 Baltimore 742.7.481.8003.34.028.0
1971 Baltimore 1837.3.407.7933.64.122.1
1972 New York 1626.8.411.7892.82.912.3
1973 New York 1631.5.526.7503.23.216.1
1974 New York 1233.9.491.8554.
1975 New York 329.7.267.8183.
1978 New York 624.2.387.6110.

Career highs

40-point games

PointsOpponentHome/AwayDate FGM FGA FTM FTA
56 Los Angeles Lakers HomeFebruary 13, 196820331622
49 Detroit Pistons HomeFebruary 24, 1968161726
46 Philadelphia 76ers HomeMarch 20, 1968193988
45 Philadelphia 76ers HomeFebruary 3, 1968171113
44 Cincinnati Royals AwayFebruary 17, 1968161216
42 San Francisco Warriors AwayMarch 5, 1969183668
41 Milwaukee Bucks AwayFebruary 7, 1969173478
41 Chicago Bulls AwayMarch 21, 1969203313
40 New York Knicks HomeFebruary 28, 1968131417
40 San Francisco Warriors HomeMarch 21, 1970131414

Regular season

Points56vs. Los Angeles LakersFebruary 13, 1968
Points, half (2nd)37vs. Los Angeles LakersFebruary 13, 1968
Points, overtime13vs. Detroit PistonsFebruary 6, 1970
Field goal percentage
Field goals made20vs. Los Angeles LakersFebruary 13, 1968
Field goals made20at Chicago BullsMarch 21, 1969
Field goal attempts39vs. Philadelphia 76ersMarch 20, 1968
Free throws made, none missed14—14vs. San Francisco WarriorsMarch 21, 1970
Free throws made17vs. Detroit PistonsFebruary 24, 1968
Free throw attempts26vs. Detroit PistonsFebruary 24, 1968
Blocked shots
Minutes played


Points39 (2 OT)at New York KnicksMarch 26, 1970
Field goal percentage
Field goals made14 (2 OT)at New York KnicksMarch 26, 1970
Field goals made14vs. New York KnicksMarch 31, 1970
Field goal attempts35vs. New York KnicksMarch 27, 1969
Free throws made13vs. New York KnicksApril 18, 1971
Free throw attempts15vs. New York KnicksApril 18, 1971
Blocked shots
Minutes played54 (2 OT)at New York KnicksMarch 26, 1970

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Monroe, Earl; Troupe, Quincy (2013). Earl The Pearl: My Story.