'Earl the Pearl' celebrates autobiography and Baltimore

Fred Carter didn't know Earl Monroe entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a Baltimore Bullet.

"Earl went into the Hall of Fame as a Bullet?" Carter said Wednesday in a phone interview. "That's surprising."

Carter — teammates and roommates with Monroe for four seasons in Baltimore — had assumed Monroe was enshrined in 1990 as a New York Knick.

It's an easy mistake to make: Monroe comprised half of the famous "Rolls Royce Backcourt" with Walt "Clyde" Frazier in New York. Monroe spent twice as many seasons in New York as in Baltimore. His lone championship was won as a Knick.

A little more than 40 years later, Monroe, now 68, said he still feels regret about leaving Baltimore, citing the naivete of his younger self. Yesterday, Monroe reflected on his career and his time with the Bullets at an event hosted by his former lawyer William "Billy" Murphy at Murphy, Falcon & Murphy in downtown Baltimore to celebrate the official release of his autobiography, "Earl the Pearl: My Story."

After a contract squabble with owner Abe Pollin prompted Monroe to demand out of Baltimore, Monroe was traded to the rival Knicks during the 1971-72 season, just months after the Bullets avenged consecutive playoff series defeats to the Knicks with an Eastern Conference Finals Game 7 victory at Madison Square Garden.

Monroe said that while joining the Knicks required him to adjust to a structured system, at the end of the day he was a basketball player and thought he could fit into any system.

He proved it in New York.

Monroe won a championship with the Knicks, but his style of play changed.The inventor of the spin move averaged seven fewer points per game in New York, as the flashy, score-first guard was thrust out of the spotlight and into the rotation, forced to assimilate into the Knicks' more traditional offense.

When Monroe reflects on his career, he said he sees the impact he's made on the game with no-look passes and dazzling moves.

How Monroe is remembered depends on who is asked, though.

Longtime NBA writer Sam Smith said "unquestionably" his memories of Monroe are from the Pearl's Baltimore days.

"Everything gets more attention when it's in New York, unusually so and unfortunately so," Smith said. "He gets talked about more as a Knick because they won the title and he played alongside Frazier, but his greatness was really with the Bullets."

Still, Carter believes Monroe shouldn't lament bolting Baltimore.

"If he were to regret it, I'm going to tell him myself, 'Pearl you're not guaranteed championships in Baltimore, there's no guarantee you would've been a top-50 player if you stay in Baltimore, we don't know that. One thing we know for sure is, you've got a title under your belt and you're a top-50 player. Don't look back, there's nothing back there,'" Carter said.

Except back there doesn't seem so desolate to Monroe.

Monroe still has family in the area. He has memories of the days of Earl the Pearl.

Looking out a window from the 23rd floor at One South Street, Monroe recounts driving past Baltimore Civic Center — now 1st Mariner Arena — earlier in the day and the memories that flooded his mind. And he's somewhat haunted by the flashbacks to his first time playing the Bullets as a member of the Knicks, and the "Benedict Earl" signs fans held up from the stands.

The jeers turned to cheers by the end of the game, but Monroe can't shake the fact that he didn't win a title in Baltimore.

Forty years after his lone NBA title, Monroe's knees creak with each step he takes. He no longer owns a Rolls-Royce. But his impact on the game is apparent.

Smith called Monroe a pioneer, a groundbreaking player who ushered in a new era of basketball at his position, like Elgin Baylor and Julius Erving.

Monroe's play often left Smith saying "My gosh, did you see that?"

Sometimes Monroe wishes those words would have been uttered with him in a Bullets uniform longer.

rhood@baltsun.com

 

This article originally stated Earl Monroe was wearing his 1973 NBA championship ring the day of this event, but he was wearing a ring honoring the NBA top 50 players of all time. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.