Pearl Time

[Time for a quick Earl Monroe story. This one comes from the magazine Pro Basketball Special (1971-72) and an article titled “Ordeal of the Playoffs,” by the late-great Phil Pepe. The article begins with a quote from Bill Russell, “When the playoffs come and the pressure is the greatest, you’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself what kind of a man you are, what are you really made of?” Pepe then writes, “Things happen in the playoffs, strange and eerie things. It is a time when the unusual is the norm, the extraordinary is commonplace. And only the stoutest of heart come through under the pressure of the playoffs.” Pepe goes on to retell an unusual “loss of cool” during the 1970 NBA Eastern Division semifinals pitting the soon-to-be champion New York Knicks against Monroe’s Baltimore Bullets.]

In recent times, as recent as the 1970 playoffs, there was an example of a veteran player losing his cool temporarily. There were 24 seconds left with the score tide in the opening playoff game between the Knicks in the Bullets. The Bullets were in possession and their strategy was obvious—give the ball to Earl (The Pearl) Monroe, let him kill most of the 24 seconds, then take a do-or-die shot in the final seconds. 

Monroe got the ball and went into his dribbling act, protecting the ball behind his body, killing the Clock. Finally, there were eight seconds to go in Monroe began to move. He dribbled closer . . . six seconds . . . five . . .  he began his drive . . . four seconds .  . . three . . . he stopped  . . . two seconds . . . leaped straight  into the air and fired at the basket. The ball hit the hoop, then bounded away . . . and the score was still tied. 

After a short rest, the players took the floor again, and the automatic clock showed five minutes to play. 

“Why does the clock say five minutes?” Monroe asked Dick Barnett, the man guarding him. 

“The overtime period is always five minutes,” Barnett said. 

“Overtime?” shrieked the perplexed Pearl. “I thought that was the end of the third period.”

[A scan of the Baltimore Sun confirms Pepe’s story, though it placed the conversation between Monroe and Walt Frazier. “He told me after he shot the ball he thought it was only the end of the third quarter” Frazier revealed. “That might have saved us because I don’t think he would have kept the ball around midcourt that long if he had realized the game depended on the shot.”

What did Monroe have to say for himself? “I was so wound up in the game, I forgot what quarter it was. I still thought the shot might go in, but I don’t think I put enough backspin on it.” The Knicks took Game 1 in double overtime, 120-117]

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