- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: Rodale Books (April 23, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1609615611
- ISBN-13: 978-1609615611
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 49 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Earl The Pearl: My Story Hardcover – April 23, 2013
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About the Author
EARL MONROE is one of the greatest and most beloved players in basketball history. Inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990 and named to the NBA's 50 Greatest Players list in 1996, Monroe left an indelible stylistic mark on the game of basketball. He lives in New York City.
QUINCY TROUPE is the author of seventeen books including Miles: The Autobiography of Miles Davis (with jazz legend Miles Davis) and The Pursuit of Happyness (with Chris Gardner), which was a New York Times bestseller for 40 weeks. He lives in New York City.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
EARLY LIFE IN SOUTH PHILLY
I WAS BORN AT 2:15 IN THE MORNING on a wintry day, November 21, 1944, at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. My mother, Rose, named me Vernon Earl Monroe Jr., after my father. Being born on that day makes me a Scorpio, and the biggest significance about that is the fact that I'm pretty perceptive about a lot of things, at least I think so. One thing is certain: I don't forget a lot of things and I'm very vindictive, which some say is a trait of Scorpios. Generally, though, I look at how people treat me and then I treat them the same way. See, I'm a big advocate of the old saying that you do unto others as they do unto you.
Anyway, they tell me the day I was born was a very cold day and after my older sister Ann came to see me, she told people I was about 23 or 24 inches of nothing but skin and bones. She also said I was "the ugliest thing she'd ever seen." At least that's what she told me she said over the years. But, you know, she loved me so much when I was coming up that later on I kind of forgave her for that comment, though not altogether.
My mother's last name changed to Smith when she married again after my father left, but while my father was around she was Rose Monroe. Before that she was just Rose Hall, which was her family name. She was one of 18 kids, born somewhere in the middle of my grandmother's children. By the time I was born, all of my mother's brothers and sisters except three had passed away: There was just my mother and her two sisters, Aunt Nicey and Aunt Mary, and Uncle Jim. But Uncle Jim died on the 22nd of November, the day after I was born. Ma--that's what I called my mother--told me later that Uncle Jim had died relatively young, at around 40, after he swallowed a red-hot potato that burned up his insides. I don't know if that's the real truth, but there's no one around to refute it. So people in my family always said things like "when God takes something away, God brings you something back," and that "something," I guess, was me.
Ma was born September 14, 1914, in New Bern, North Carolina, and my father, Vernon Earl Monroe, was born on Christmas Day, 1912, in Columbia, South Carolina. They were married in the early 1940s but didn't stay together very long: I think he left when I was five or six years old. She was 30 years old when she had me, and my parents brought me home to a row house located at 2524 Alter Street in South Philadelphia (it's no longer there), where I lived until I was 11 years old.
Philadelphia is famous for its row houses, which line the streets of the inner city for block after block. I think row houses were first built in Philadelphia, or at least that's what I remember some people telling me when I was growing up. Anyway, row houses are attached to each other at the sides and most are not too big in size. They have white stone steps that lead up to the entrance of the house from the sidewalks called stoops, and you find people sitting on them, especially during the hot summers. I lived in that row house on Alter Street with my mother, my sister Ann, and my father, until he left. John Smith, my stepfather, moved in a couple of years later. A year or so after my stepfather moved in, my baby sister, Theresa, was born. But we all, at one time or another, lived in that two- story house I was brought home to when I was born.
That house had a basement with a furnace, and it also served as a place that we stored a lot of stuff in, including coal for the furnace. On the first floor there was a living room, dining room, and a kitchen. Behind it was a small yard that had an outhouse nobody used. Behind the yard was an alleyway piled high with a lot of trash (some stinking garbage, too), and it ran the length of one city block. We sometimes used to play hide and go seek back there in the daytime (but never at night), and when we ran through the alley it would be like running up and down small hills, with low-lying flat stretches between each hill of trash.
At night--and sometimes even during the day--criminals used to run through this alley to try to escape from cops who were after them for whatever crimes they had committed--mostly small-time stuff. Many times they would get away, because the cops were afraid to really search for them back there. Plus, the crooks were guys from the neighborhood and they knew where all the hiding places were, which route to take to get away--you know, the tricks of the trade of being escape artists. But sometimes they would get caught by the cops and go to jail, though this didn't happen often.
In the front of the house, on the first floor, there was a small vestibule you had to go through to get to the front door, which led outside to Alter Street. Then you went down four whitewashed steps to cross the sidewalk and then you were on the street, which was dirt and cobblestone. On the second floor of the house were a small bedroom for my sister Ann and a larger master bedroom that my mother and father (and later, my stepfather) slept in, along with me. I slept in a baby crib until I outgrew it and bunked down on a cot. It was cozy up there, a little tight, but no one ever complained.
Around the time I was four or five years old, I remember Ann--who was 15 years older than me--was going with a man named Andrew "Big Jimmy" James, who later became her husband. Anyway, when Big Jimmy would come over to the house in the daytime during the summer to see Ann, they would be trying to make out in the front room, because Ma and my father were away working. So they would be on the couch, trying to be romantic, you know, kissing and whatnot, and I'd come into the front room, put two chairs together and lay there looking at them. They never said anything, but I knew they were pissed off by the way they looked at me. Big Jimmy probably thought I was part of the CBA, you know, the Cock Blockers Association! Maybe he even thought I was the king of it, you know what I mean? (When I spoke at Ann's funeral in 2007, I said, "I know Andrew must have been thinking back then when he and Ann first met that I was the king of the CBA.")
My maternal grandmother, who we all called "Mom," ran a speakeasy next door to our house, at 2522 Alter Street, from the time I was born. And, at the same time, my mother ran card games in our house on weekends, when people got off work. They would come over to my mother's house and play card games like bid whist, pitty pat, and tonk, and they played for money. As I grew older, I would stay up late just to watch what was going on. Sometimes someone--I can't remember who they were, though it might have been a man named J.D.--would carry me on their shoulders over to Mom's place and I'd watch the people gambling and playing the numbers, because my grandmother did this, too. Then someone would say, "Hey Earl, what number should I play?" And I would give them a number and they'd play it. Or, somebody would be shooting dice and my grandmother would say to me, "Earl, call the number." And I would call it. And if they won she would say, "See, I told you. Earl's a good luck numbers guy."
But my mother didn't like me being there, around this kind of stuff. So she'd be monitoring what was going on and she'd tell me sometimes, "Go on home, Earl. Stay upstairs, boy, and go to bed."
During the day my grandmother had a store where she sold candy and food all year round and shaved-ice cones drenched with different-colored sweet syrups we called "water ices" (they called them "snowballs" or "snow cones" in other places) during the summer, when it was hot. At night Mom would sell liquor for 50 cents a shot--you know, bourbon, scotch, and gin--and glasses of wine, beer, and whatnot in her house.
She also sold pork sandwiches, pickled pigs' feet from a big old jar full of them, chitlins, anything fried. Just slap some bread on whatever it was to absorb some of the liquor and people could drink more because they had a base of grease in their bellies. So she'd be selling fried porgy sandwiches- -with all the bones left in the fish--that people ate like there was no tomorrow. Sometimes, all of a sudden someone would start choking and coughing because they had a bone caught in their throat. Then somebody would have to run and get a loaf of bread so they could wash the bone down their throats with water. (I never liked greasy food like pigs' feet or chitlins, myself. I just couldn't get down with it, especially chitlins, because the smell just turned me off.)
Everybody who came by gambled, shot craps, drank, played the numbers, things like that. All of this went on in my grandmother's house. Later, as I grew older, I watched people dancing and listening to the music of Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, the Platters, and James Brown.
The first real lasting image I can recall of my father was him pulling me aside one day and telling me he was going away. I remember this day vividly, because before he left he told me to hold out both my hands, and I did. Then he poured two handfuls of shiny silver dollars into my cupped hands. When my father gave me all those shiny silver dollars, I thought it had to be all the money in the world. That made me real happy, even though I never really cherished money too much--although I always knew I needed to make some--when I was growing up. But I thought after my father gave me those silver dollars that I could always make do in my life, because the actual fact that my father gave me all those shiny silver coins could really carry me through to accomplish whatever it was I wanted to do in my life. Now, whether that's true or not, I have never forgotten that moment. After all, I was only five.
Back then those silver dollars really meant something special to me. My mother kept them for me for safekeeping and she would give me one every now and then, whenever I really needed something. Maybe that's why later on, after I hooked up with my father again, I always saw him as a source of money until I got to know him much better. I don't know, I never thought about it. But when he gave me all those silver dollars that day, that was the last time I remember seeing him until we were reunited 14 or 15 years later, when I was 19 years old and in my first year of college. That was an important, eventful day for me and I will talk more about it later. But I didn't know anything about my father when I was growing up. As a matter of fact, I told everybody he was dead, even though I knew he wasn't. I guess I might have been ashamed of the fact that I didn't have a real father around, so I lied. Plus, I really didn't know where he was, so it was almost as if he was dead.
In 1951, when I was six, I remember my mother started living with John Smith, who I called Mr. John. Suddenly, he was just there. My sister Ann, who was living with us at the time, left the house after she married Andrew James in March 1951. Big Jimmy was in the army, stationed out in Colorado Springs, Colorado, so Ann moved out there with him and I moved into her room and laid claim to her bed.
My sister Theresa was born September 11, 1951. Her father was John Smith. I remember Ann bought Ma a TV set for her birthday, which corresponded with Theresa's homecoming from the hospital. That was great timing! Because it was the first TV set on our block, that was when a lot of neighborhood people started coming by our house, especially young kids, to sit up and look with wonder at the black-and-white images coming out of what was then considered a magical little box with a screen.
It was something else just watching people's faces as they craned their necks, leaned forward to watch that rectangle with a flickering small screen and those rabbit ears sitting up on top. My grandmother used to talk to the set, saying, "don't you go there, don't you see people are waiting for you!" People would be staring in amazement--and disappointment, too--at all that weird-looking white and gray flickering and listening to the buzzing fuzz sounds coming from the TV, until somebody had the sense to get up and turn the set off. Then the people visiting our house would file out the front door looking bewildered and dazed and our family would go upstairs and go to bed.
When "Mr. John" first came to live with us, I was very young and really didn't have any thoughts about him one way or the other. I mean, he was just somebody else there, and I can't recollect drawing any kind of conclusion about him beyond the fact that he had come to live with us. After Theresa was born we became a family, and that stood for something. But as time went on and I grew older, my stepfather started to get on my nerves and I began to dislike him, especially the way he treated my mother. Still, I must admit, he always had a good job--he was a butcher at A&P Market--and he made really good money, which took care of us and all the bills very well.
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Earl Monroe, who was in the prime before the days of ESPN, was one of the most exciting players ever to play in the NBA. His game, honed on the playgrounds of Philadelphia, heavily influenced others and thrilled crowds.
More than a showman, Monroe was named Rookie of the Year as a Baltimore Bullet and made the All-Star Team four times. He helped the New York Knicks to a world championship in 1972-73. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990 and was named one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players in 1996.
I was fortunate to have seen Earl Monroe play for the Baltimore Bullets at the Baltimore Civic Center from 1967-1971 when I was a student at Towson University. I was an Earl Monroe fan, and over the years I have read a lot about him. What has always been lacking, however, is information about his days growing up in Philadelphia and his career at Winston-Salem State College.
The strength of Monroe's biography is his willingness to discuss these two subjects in great detail. He spends 80 pages on his childhood and another 80 pages on his career at Winston-Salem. Earl gives great insight into his early years, discussing his mother, who was the driving force in his life growing up, his friends and neighbors. He worked hard to improve his game in high school, striving to surpass those who were better than he was. A poor student at Bartram High School, Earl had limited basketball scholarship opportunities. Although he later found out that his high school coach had withheld several offers from him. Earl planned to play with the Philadelphia entry in the American Basketball League, but the league folded.
Earl says the turning point in his life came when he beat Matt Jackson, who had been the leading Philadelphia high school scorer and attended South Carolina State, in a highly touted playground match up. His reputation and notoriety soared, and he said, "Things would never be the same."
At Winston-Salem, Earl led the team to a 31-1 record as a senior and paced the nation in scoring with 41.5 points per game. Winston-Salem became the first black college to win the NCAA Division II championship and Earl was named tournament MVP and Division II Player of the Year.
Ironically, Earl was not selected for the Pan-American team in May of 1967. Earl called his omission a "racist decision." He said Coach Jim Gudger, "Didn't like my style of play. It was too street, too playground, too black." Earl writes, "Not making the Pan-Am team hurt a lot, left a scar that lasts to this day. The incident changed me fundamentally. It made me more aware of what I did as a black man and how the country treated blacks. It turned me from a pacifist to an activist."
Selected No. 2 in the 1967 NBA draft by the Baltimore Bullets (behind Jimmy Walker of Providence College), the naive Monroe signed a two-year contract for a total of $39,000 without reading it or negotiating (he had no agent). In the meantime, Walker and Bill Bradley were signing contracts worth many times more.
Bullet coach Gene Shue embraced Earl's style of play and encouraged him to take control of the game. As a rookie, Earl averaged 24.3 points per game and earned Rookie of the Year honors. Describing his play, Earl said, "I played like a musician plays an instrument in a freestyle jazz solo type of way."
The following season, the Bullets drafted Wes Unseld and the club fashioned a 57-25 record, the best in the NBA. Unseld, Monroe, Gus Johnson, Kevin Loughery, Jack Marin, Ray Scott and the other Bullets, however, were ousted in the playoffs by the New York Knicks, who were fast becoming their main rival. The Knicks knocked the Bullets out of the playoffs in seven games the following year. Monroe had surgery on both knees that summer. The Bullets got their revenge in 1970-71 when they beat the Knicks in seven games in the playoffs. They were swept in four straight in the championship series, however, by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Early in the 1971-72 season, Earl forced the Bullets to trade him. Surprisingly, he was traded to the Knicks, who already had superstar Walt Frazier in the backcourt. Despite a lot of doubters, Earl blended his game to fit the Knicks' more controlled "hit-the-open-man" philosophy. He was no longer the franchise player he had been with the Bullets. Earl's quest for a NBA championship was fulfilled in 1973 when the Knicks beat the Lakers for the title. Although he played seven more seasons with the Knicks, he concludes the account of his career after the 1973 season.
The final 45 pages of the book are an epilogue of Earl sharing his thoughts on the game and the greatest players. There are few surprises here. Perhaps most interesting is the list of people he believes should be in the Basketball Hall of Fame--Bob Love, Bob Dandridge, JoJo White, Bernard King and Coach John McLendon.
While Earl Monroe's autobiography is a welcomed addition, it would have benefited from a more in-depth discussion of his playing career. He covers just two of his nine years with the Knicks, allotting 70 pages, many of which, however, focus on his love life, which he seems very willing to discuss. He dismisses the Bullets 1971 championship series against the Bucks in two pages, and the Knicks' 1973 championship series against the Lakers in seven pages. There is no strategy, turning points or insights offered. Game accounts are dry and lifeless.
With that said I'd recommend this book for anyone looking to learn about the Pearl, or to learn what it takes to be a top competitor in a given field.
Earl's early life is told in a kind of haltingly... described manner... that perhaps could have been written in a smoother style. The phrase "you know"... "you know what I mean"... "know what I mean"... "you know"... is used literally between fifty-to-eighty times in the first hundred or so pages. (I tried to ignore it after that.) Earl had a Mother he loved with all his heart... a Father that disappeared for years out of his life... and of whom Earl told his friends was dead... and a cast of Grandmother... aunts... and cousins... that were every type of criminal... from the numbers rackets... to gang members... to one cousin that according to Earl stood (I believe?) on top of a vehicle spraying machine gun fire everywhere. Note: "I believe"... is also a term that Earl uses quite often in describing things from the past.
Earl describes many different sides of prejudice... and being the way things were during the sixties in America... every day brought a different angle that prejudice may affect a human being... and not just black Americans. I credit "The-Pearl" with great honesty and integrity when he also quite clearly describes some of the worst prejudice being black on black... based on the darkness or lightness of your skin color.
When Earl was young he liked other sports as well as basketball... in fact one of his greatest childhood sports moments was seeing Willie Mays' classic over the shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series. But when Earl decides that basketball is his life's passion... everything in his world is dedicated to being the best. I should correct that... as he still had a passion for clothes, partying and women. In fact... I wish he would have shared a little less regarding his sex-life between the ages of eight and eleven.
His years at Winston-Salem-State playing for the infamous coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines... gives great detail as to the finishing touches of "The-Pearl"...coming to fruition as a one-of-a-kind-force-to-be-reckoned-with on the hardwood. Note: potential readers who are true old school fans... will get a kick out of a few of the other nicknames Earl picked up along the way... including:...*THOMAS EDISON*... "because of the way I invented moves and stuff out on the court."
"The-Pearl's" subsequent climb to basketball greatness is adorned with all the names such as Gus Johnson...the original backboard shattering high flier... who was one of my idols growing up... and of course all the names on all of the jersey's hanging in the rafters at Madison Square Garden. Earl of course, as history shows... proved the pundits wrong by teaming up poetically in the Knicks' backcourt with Clyde Frazier... while only needing one ball.
From the cover picture with Monroe starting to swoop down court with "Mr. Clutch"... Jerry West in pursuit... to an inside picture of "The-Pearl" shooting over Wilt in an All Star game... this is a wondrous... but somewhat bumpy trip... down old-school NBA memory lane.
I could tell you more... but you would've had to have been there... to fully appreciate it. After all so much of it was magic!