[Long article, so I’ll keep this brief. Below is a Q & A with Earl Monroe from the magazine Black Sports dated February 1972, or shortly after he arrived in New York to join the Knicks. The article starts with its own italicized text.]
“The first time I saw Earl Monroe play basketball is as sharp as ever in my mind. He was at the Georgia Invitational Tournament, held annually at Morehouse College in Atlanta; it was in 1964, I believe. Anyway, ‘TC’—it was then called Winston-Salem Teachers College, I think, was clearly the class of the tourney. The starting five—Parker, Curry, Glover, Blount, and Smith—were eating up opponents with surgical precision.
Then, midway through the first half at the semifinal game, with Winston-Salem leading by only a point or two, Coach Gaines looked down his bench and called for a fellow the program said was Earl Monroe. Nobody could understand Coach Gaines’ move. The guy was a freshman!
I was sitting at the north end of the gymnasium, about 20 feet from the bench and perpendicular to it. The fellow looked none too swift as he ambled towards the official scorekeeper’s table, midway between the team benches. At the first dead ball, on walked Monroe. He was on the court for about five minutes of playing time—fluid drive, poetry in motion, a whirlwind dipping, diving, ducking, and dodging over, under, around, then between would-be defenders.
One play in particular stuck in my mind. Earl got the ball facing the baseline left of the basket. He started his dribble back to the basket, with less than six inches between the ball and the junction of endline. Somehow, in the moving of head, hips, shoulders, and feet, each seemingly having a mind of its own, and without regard for the other; and after the poor fellow who had been assigned to cover him had fallen into my lap, Earl drove to the basket, looked up into a sea of arms on the near side of the hoop, extended himself to the other side of the basket, and neatly drop the ball into the nets. A momentary pause, the true mark of appreciation, ensued then a spontaneous roar went up for “The Pearl.”
In those five minutes, Earl had hit on seven of eight from the field, two of two from the charity stripe, for 16 points. Yes, he had made a couple of floor errors, as his teammates were simply unprepared for some of his impossible passes. And yes, when he got his hands on the ball near the basket, after a few stray passes, he looked only for the shot. Still you could feel the electricity of a complete offensive basketball player throughout the startled gym.”
Memory of A Sports Fan
Earl Monroe, Winston-Salem, 1964-67, scored 2,935 points, averaging 26.7 ppg. in his four years, leading his team to the NCAA College Division championship in his senior year and winning the MVP trophy. After leaving Winston-Salem, he was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets of the NBA on the first round, the second player so chosen that year following Jimmy Walker [Providence College] of the Detroit Pistons.
After three years as the most popular and exciting player on the Bullet team, Earl was traded to the New York Knicks. Coming off numerous injuries, Earl was not fully prepared for taking on his new duties. In an NBC studio in Rockefeller Plaza, we talked with Monroe on athletes and athletics, social commitment, and money in the big game.
Black Sports: Earl, how did you get the nickname, Pearl?
Monroe: Well, in my senior year in college, I had a few games in which I scored a few points. The caption of a newspaper article said, “These are Earl’s pearls”—talking about my scoring. And from then on, people down there in Winston-Salem started calling me “the Pearl.” And from there, it was derived—“Earl the Pearl.”
Black Sports: Explicitly, what were the scoring pearls that caused the name?
Monroe: And now you know I know, don’t you? It was 33, 68, 58, 53, 51, 55.
Black Sports: They were Earl’s pearls, then, huh?
Monroe: Yeah, at that time. I forgot the rest of it.
Black Sports: When you went back to Philadelphia, how did the guys who would call you “Magic” and “Black Jesus” like your new name?
Monroe: Well, really, I just started liking it myself this past year or so; I had always despised it because it wasn’t something that I gave myself. But this last year or so, it’s kind of been attached to me.
Black Sports: In the last 15 years, it is said that there have been three major influences on the game of professional basketball—Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, and now you. How do you feel when you realize that you’ve changed the style of playing basketball?
Monroe: As far as me changing the style of play of basketball, I think my style is basically just the style of about every Black player in America today. As you know, most Black players are, more or less, playground players, and this is just about the basic style that I play. It’s kind of hard to explain, just like someone asking me how do you do that? It’s just something that comes instinctively.
Black Sports: Is there a difference between the way a white kid learns to play basketball and the way a Black kid learns to play?
Monroe: Well, of course the environment has a lot to do with it. If you come from a white middle-class environment, for instance, quite naturally you’re going to have the type of coaching and facilities to teach how to play basketball on a certain level.
But, being in a Black ghetto area, you have to use the facilities available. And, of course, this changes the style because here you’re playing on places with cracks in the cement, you’re playing on half-moon backboards, basket rims that are bent, and what not. So, you kind of deviate the style of play, and you kind of compensate for the different things.
Black Sports: But doesn’t it make you feel good when you go into the playground, and you see a kid mimicking your style—the spin around, the pump, and the other moves?
Monroe: Of course it makes me feel good to see these things come about. But then, too, of course I hate to say that I was directly responsible for this, because it always goes back to playground basketball. Before me, it was someone else. It’s just that I’ve had the exposure; people have gotten to see the way that I play as opposed to the way other kids play.
Black Sports: Earl, it’s nice to be modest, but the style of play that we’re talking about is not just the playground play but the actual play in the NBA. Do you see any presence of this?
Monroe: Well, I see some semblance there; but, of course, it’s still rather hard to say that it’s from my direct influence. I think that most Black players nowadays have to, more or less, be better. Doing things a little differently and getting the exposure, the way we did in college back in 1962, 1963 helps a lot.
Black Sports: Earl, on a poll-to-poll, man-to-man basis, you’re probably one of the most popular basketball players in the country today. Have you taken advantage of your popularity, and have you reaped any benefits outside of basketball as a result of it?
Monroe: Well, I’m not the type of guy who goes out and tries to push myself on people. I attribute most of this popularity to me just being myself and being in the position to have kids identify with me; because, of course, in essence I am them and I try to be them. I can go into a neighborhood and do the things that they do, and talk the way they talk, and, you know, kids identify with this. I guess it’s not common to see professional athletes coming in, talking and reacting the way I do to certain things.
Black Sports: If we can be a little bit more specific in that question: have you made any money outside of basketball? Have you ever had the opportunity, because of your charisma, to make commercials, for example?
Monroe: Well, no. I haven’t taken advantage of it as of yet. Before this year, I really wasn’t too interested in going out and making a lot of commercials, because I guess you might say I’m kind of lazy in such matters. It really didn’t matter to me because I was making money anyway, and I figured that I had a few years to go and, later on, I could probably do that. Now, of course, being in a city like New York, those opportunities will probably open up more than they have in the past.
Black Sports: You recognize, of course, that the ability of the Black athlete to take advantage of this is not as great as his white counterpart.
Monroe: Well, of course. I definitely recall a lot of instances where, maybe if I wasn’t as good as I was, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now. I’ve always felt as though you have to put yourself in a position to do things. And if I wanted to say something, of course. Being Black, I couldn’t always say it. But if I’m in the position of strength with the talent and charisma, as such, I could go out and say those things, and even if people really don’t dig it at all, I have the market value to say what I want or go elsewhere.
Black Sports: Do you recognize and can you visualize the role of the Black athlete in the new, emerging Black society as it is today, recognizing once again that the Black athlete always kept his mouth shut and never took a position on anything?
Monroe: Now, sports, as well as general society, has become so politically oriented that the Black athlete has to stand up, take a position and say the things that he thinks are right for himself and for his people. And I think this is happening more and more each day, and it’s quite evident in the role that the Black professional athlete is playing in the American Society now.
Black Sports: When you see this, do you see the potential dangers, real or unreal, that kept him quiet before, dissipating?
Monroe: Oh, yeah! Then, too, it goes right back to being in the position. Because you have a lot of players who want to do a lot of things, but they’re not in the position. People have to realize that if I’m a professional basketball player, and, if I can’t do too much other than play professional basketball, I’m going to have to do something to try to keep my job, I keep my mouth shut. But this is the fringe ballplayer.
Black Sports: Then, you see economics playing a very big part in how political, how forceful, or how vocal a Black athlete can be?
Monroe: I think economics is the whole thing in a nutshell. This is what we’re striving for, no matter which way we go; we always have to turn to economics for the solution.
Black Sports: In the Black community, the Black athlete is the most visibly affluent person. Bar none, he’s the first recognized person to have made it as far as Black people in this society are concerned. Because of this prominence, do you think that the Black athlete ought to take more of a leadership role?
Monroe: I’m in the position to do that type of thing. Because I feel that if my services are somewhat hindered here, I’m quite sure I can go elsewhere and do the things that I want to do. Of course, this is a great place to be in, and I don’t foresee any difficulty here about the role which I have to play.
But let’s say there’s a player who may be the 12th man on the team. Here’s a guy who wants to go out and do things for himself, wants to go out and do things for his people. But he also has to be in a position to do things, and it all goes back to being in the right spot at the right time.
Black Sports: Bearing in mind what you just said, do you feel that you and other Black athletes have a responsibility to go into Black communities and do things with your fame, your rapport, and with your finances so that Blacks can operate and move into the framework of American society?
Monroe: I don’t feel as though it’s a responsibility, as such. I feel as though it’s a duty for the Black athlete to go back into the community. It all goes back to where one comes from. You know, you have to realize where you came from and really get down into what’s going on.
Black Sports: Are Blacks better athletes, naturally or inherently, than their white counterparts?
Monroe: I just think that it’s, more or less, determination. You have to fight so hard to get ahead, and you know that you have to be twice as good or that much better than your white counterpart. I think this is the whole thing in a nutshell. And then it goes back to heredity, or rather to environment.
Black Sports: So, you don’t think there is any natural or anatomical difference between whites and Blacks?
Monroe: No, I don’t think so; that’s just the same as saying white people are basically smarter than Blacks.
Black Sports: Earl, what advantages or disadvantages did you have in going to a Black college?
Monroe: Well, I think it was an advantage because the most beautiful experience in the world is being with your people and really enjoying it. This is what the Black school afforded me. I recommend to all Black kids who want to go to college that they try to attend a Black college because it’s the most fulfilling experience of your life. I had a four-year vacation, so to speak, because that’s what I think college is. All you have to do is go to classes and study a little bit, and that’s it; and how long does that take each day? The rest of the time is yours to do with as you please. So, I think there’s a definite advantage of getting to know one another, getting to know how everyone ticks, and, also, making yourself aware of the outside world.
Black Sports: Were there any disadvantages?
Monroe: Well, as far as being an athlete, probably the biggest disadvantage was publicity; a lot of people just don’t hear about you. I think the prime example of this was when I came out of school as the number two draft choice in the NBA, getting paid $20,000 as opposed to, maybe, Jimmy Walker, who was the number one draft choice, and he received quite a bit more than I did.
Black Sports: Was that because of the school or because of Earl Monroe?
Monroe: No, that was because people really did not know about Earl Monroe. I didn’t have the press clippings as such. I had my press clippings from Winston-Salem and thereabouts, but I didn’t have the nationwide press clippings.
Black Sports: Does an Earl Monroe coming out of Winston-Salem have a big agent pursuing him? Or does a Jimmy Walker have him? And does this make a difference in the money?
Monroe: Well, I’d say that Jimmy Walker would have the big agent. As it was, being unaware of people and things that go on, like the draft and what not, my agent was my coach. However, not being aware of things, I signed without him even knowing it. I signed for quite a lot less than I anticipated.
Black Sports: One of the things, I imagine, that “Big House” [Coach Gaines] would never forgive you for is signing that contract without him being there. One of the things that he mentioned was that he had asked you not to sign anything without him being there. How did they manage to get you away from him?
Monroe: I was in Philly during the Easter vacation, and I came home one morning about 4 a.m. to find the lights on in the house, and these guys waiting for me, waiting to take me to New York.
Black Sports: In your house?
Monroe: Right. And it’s 4 o’clock in the morning. So, I went to New York because I really didn’t know any better at the time. They brought me to New York, and I stayed at the Americana until the draft was announced. But while I was up in the hotel room, I got shanghaied into signing a contract.
Black Sports: Is it true that the figures that they released were not accurate concerning your first contract with the Bullets? They were releasing figures like $50,000.
Monroe: No, no, I signed for $20,000 a year.
Black Sports: You actually signed a $40,000, two-year contract?
Black Sports: Did this make you bitter once you found out what went down?
Monroe: Yes, it made me kind of bitter; it also made me rather mad at myself for not really being aware of what was going down. I think that the experience was great for me, because it proved to be beneficial in later years. But I think everyone, especially Black athletes coming out of school, should have an agent or somebody to really take care of them.
Black Sports: As you think back on it now, did you ever think that Earl Monroe, the hip cat from South Philly, could get caught like that?
Monroe: No, I never did think of that. As a matter of fact, one of my nicknames was Slick and, you know, I got slicked.
Black Sports: Let me take you back to something you talked about a little earlier. Right now, there’s a big movement around the country that’s saying “sports are a debilitating, crippling thing, and Blacks shouldn’t be involved with them. We have got to get our heads together about where we’re going, and we ain’t got time to be entertaining white folks playing games no more.” In the new society, do you see a role for athletics and Blacks in athletics?
Monroe: Well, I think there’ll always be a role for Blacks in athletics. And if we look back, we see that we really haven’t been in athletics that long. Even more so, we haven’t been making the type of money that we’re making now for too many years. When you look at the Black athlete, and the type of money that he’s making, you realize that, economically, he’s helping his people because he’s not only able to get the type of money that he deserves, but most Black athletes are somehow putting it back into the community. Most definitely, there is a place, a role, for athletics in the future of Blacks.
Black Sports: When you talk about the Black athletes putting money back into the community, does that mean now more Black athletes are thinking business-wise? And for you, is basketball a business? Or, is it still fun and games?
Monroe: After my first couple of months in professional basketball, it became—and still is—a business for me. Of course, you know, you enjoy playing, or you really wouldn’t play that much, and the money does keep you in the game.
Black Sports: Recruiting, as such, in America can be a pretty uncanny kind of a situation for a high school kid. When you were in high school, what kind of recruiting tactics did you see? There seemed to be some tactics, like the incident with the guys in your room, to get you to come and sign in the NBA. What did you run into as far as trying to get you to go to college?
Monroe: I really wasn’t approached by that many schools that wanted me to come see their campus or anything like that. And that kind of perturbed me because in high school, I was the leading scorer in the league, and I maybe got 20 offers. And of those 20 offers, I only received approximately five or six. My coach was screening them for me, you see.
Black Sports: Who was your coach?
Monroe: Tony Kolmar at John Bartram High School in Philadelphia. And so, you know, I really didn’t have that problem of being recruited as such; as a matter of fact, my decision to go to Winston-Salem came as such a spur-of-the-moment type of thing, that it wasn’t until like the day that I was supposed to be there, that I decided to go.
Black Sports: So, you coach screened so well that he didn’t have a school for you? Did he decide what school?
Monroe: It was Leon Whitney, a brother in Philly who, more or less, just asked me to go, and I said OK.
Black Sports: Was the education the most important reason for going to college? Or was it going to college to prepare yourself to be a professional athlete?
Monroe: When I came out of high school, basically the trend was going to college to play basketball or whatever sport that a kid was involved with. When I went to college after staying out of school a whole year and getting to know about the streets and what not, I went to school basically just to play basketball.
It really wasn’t until my junior year, or the latter part of my sophomore year, that I decided that I had to get a sound education. If I didn’t make it in basketball, at least I’d have something else to fall back on. And I can attribute a lot of that to Coach Gaines, my mother and my sisters, because they encouraged me a heck of a lot to go on and get a degree.
Black Sports: Earl, do you think athletes and, in particular, Black athletes, will ever learn from those who came before them? You mentioned your experiences at Bartram High School, where the coach held back some of the offers, and the same thing happened to Chamberlain. But it seems like guys never seem to listen, in particular a lot of Black guys; they don’t seem to listen to other Black athletes. Why is this? Why don’t Black athletes relate to other Black athletes?
Monroe: Well, that’s a rather hard question, I guess you can say it’s pride a lot of times that keeps you from doing a lot of things that you would normally do. Just like I really never had an idol because everyone else had an idol—you see? And I guess that could be applied here in this situation.
Black Sports: In professional basketball or professional sports, in general, a lot of changes are going to go down and a lot of things are going to happen. Are you satisfied with the basic structure of pro basketball and how it relates to you—and you to it—on an individual basis?
Monroe: Well, let me put it like this: as it is now with the two leagues, I think it’s more beneficial to the player. The player coming out of school now is making the type of money that you should be making. Athletes nowadays are a lot more business-minded than they were, let’s say, five or six years ago. And when he comes out, he’s making some type of contribution not only to himself, but to the community and family. And he can go on and on and on. But at least, he’ll have something to fall back on. So, in this respect, I think that professional sports, now, are rather beneficial to the player.
Black Sports: Where do you stand on the proposed merger of the NBA and ABA as it has been submitted to Congress? A lot of players have gone on record opposing it; some players want it. I think Rick Barry and a number of the white players have openly stated that they want the leagues to merge. How do you feel about the merger?
Monroe: I feel as though the leagues should never merge. When you take away a person’s bargaining power, you’re taking away part of his life. The basketball player has a life span of five years, on average, and when you take away his bargaining power, his first, second, and third years—his money years—he’s not going to be able to make much more money than that in his fourth and fifth years. So, I’m opposed to the merger altogether.
Black Sports: Would Earl Monroe be making well over $100,000 if there was no ABA?
Monroe: Earl Monroe would probably be making about $20,000, the same contract that I had when I started without the influence of the ABA.
Black Sports: A couple of years ago, there were rumors that the ABA was openly courting you. Was this so? Were their teams who are trying to get you to break your contract with the NBA?
Monroe: Well, teams did try to get me; however, the money aspect of it wasn’t what I thought it should have been. I figured since I was, what I considered, a drawing card, also knowing what other guys were making, I figured that I should have gotten a lot more than what was offered me. One team offered me $100,000 a year for five years, plus 5 or 10 percent of the team; 5 or 10 percent is nothing if the team’s not drawing.
Black Sports: Do you think the ABA has been the greatest thing for the Black basketball player?
Monroe: Quite possible, yes! There is no other way that we could have ever gotten the type of money that we’re getting now, if we didn’t have another league bidding for our services.
Black Sports: So, you think that of the two leagues, the ABA has been more beneficial to the Black basketball player than the white basketball player?
Monroe: On the whole, yes, because most of your basketball players are Black. If you look at the NBA, you’ll see that the greater percentage of your basketball players are Black.
Black Sports: A kid comes out of college and gets a million-and-a-half bucks with the team that you’re playing. What does that do to your head, a seasoned pro like yourself?
Monroe: Well, I tell you, it makes you sit up and realize that you’re supposed to be getting a lot more money than you’ve been getting. But it’s not the guy that’s coming out of college that you have the beef with; I mean, everyone should get as much as they can. It’s management. You should go to management and ask for more. This has become the common practice in the last few years, and I think it is causing problems. Joe Caldwell is a good example—the type of situation he was in, and I’m quite sure it benefited him to jump leagues.
Black Sports: Earl, in your estimation, how does management look upon its athletes, who are basically its employees?
Monroe: Well, first you have to look at management as being what it is—business. And in any type of business, you’re going to try to get by with as little expense as possible. This is the way I look at management—trying to get by with trying to pay as little as possible. It is always been that way. It’s kind of loosening up now because of the bidding for the top talent in the nation. But management is a business, and it’s going to continue to operate as a business.
Black Sports: If the tables were turned and Earl Monroe was the owner of a professional franchise, would your feelings towards the merger be the same?
Monroe: Of course not . . . from a business point of view.
Black Sports: From a business point of view?
Black Sports: With the predominance a players in the NBA being Black, to lessen this friction in basketball—and I’m assuming there is friction between management and players—do you see Black ownership coming in any time soon?
Monroe: I was hoping that maybe some of the Black entertainers might get together and pull their resources and buy a franchise. This is definitely needed. Not only because society is struggling with its stereotypes, but it’s just about time someone Black had something to do with these franchises.
Black Sports: Do you think it could happen? Are you aware that it requires a unanimous vote of the present owners for someone to get a franchise?
Monroe: I’m aware of that, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Black Sports: Blacks are intimately involved with both players’ associations. Both presidents are Blacks—Zelmo Beaty in the ABA and Oscar Robertson in your league. How do the players respond to the leadership of these two men?
Monroe: Very well, I think. But additionally, I don’t think, personally, that we could have gotten another guy to do as much for the players in the NBA as Larry Fleisher is doing. You know, he tries to find jobs for guys who are just fringe ballplayers that get cut; he tries to find them jobs not only in the NBA, but he goes also to the ABA. I don’t see where we could have gotten any better person to assist us.
Black Sports: But how do the players relate to Oscar Robertson and Zelmo Beaty? Is their leadership role that strong? Or is it just a figurehead type of thing with Larry Fleisher calling the shots?
Monroe: No, with the player representative system, I think everyone, more or less, pulls together their ideas and has a voice in the association. It’s not run by anyone other than the players.
Black Sports: Let’s talk a little bit about the present, about the move from Baltimore to New York. You like New York City . . . I have to assume that.
Monroe: Oh yes, I like New York City. Needless to say, there are not too many cities you can play in and really be appreciated like you are in New York.
Black Sports: What precipitated the explosion in Baltimore where you just suddenly stopped playing basketball?
Monroe: Well, I had gone to the owner of the team after last season and told him that I would like to be traded. And he said, “Well, we’ll talk about it later.” So, we kept calling him, telling him the same thing. And, by the time the present season had rolled around, we went back in again and told him the same thing. He said, “Fine, OK, we’ll trade you.”—as if to say, “If there’s nothing else we can do, we’ll trade you. But in the event that you think that we’re not sincerely trying to trade you, you can do what you think is best.”
Black Sports: Why did you want to be traded?
Monroe: Well, it goes back to economics again. Like if I was a newspaper reporter and I wanted to move along to get a better job because I had better opportunities for myself and my family, I can go with no stipulations at all. And I feel as though a professional athlete should also be able to make his livelihood wherever he wants to make it.
Black Sports: So—simply—you just wanted more money?
Monroe: No, not just more money, but just more opportunity to do things that I wanted to do. Money’s going to come. I mean, I’m going to get paid, regardless. But I want to do a lot of other things, that I wanted to do . . . without having to go into detail about them.
Black Sports: I can appreciate that. But, suppose they’d traded you to a place like Buffalo, New York?
Monroe: I probably wouldn’t have gone.
Black Sports: You had to be in a place, something like a New York, a Los Angeles, or possibly a Philadelphia?
Black Sports: Did you think you could have pulled it off, demanding to be traded to specific cities and locales?
Monroe: Well, it’s what I wanted, and all I could do was go in and ask for it. Of course, I didn’t get traded to the three cities to which I had stated I wanted to get traded. But I got traded to a reasonable facsimile of them all!
Black Sports: Were you prepared to suffer the consequences had they not traded you—the possible blackballing?
Monroe: Oh, yes.
Black Sports: Let me retract that and ask: do they blackball players?
Monroe: Today, I don’t think so. Too much has been said and done about players and situations in the past for that to happen. And I think a prime example is the success that Connie Hawkins has had, and I also understand that Roger Brown has a suit against the NBA. I think blackballing would do nothing but cause a long, legal turmoil—even though I was prepared to stay out the whole year. As a matter of fact, I was rather enjoying it. But had I not gone here, I probably would have gone to Indianapolis to play. I really liked Indianapolis.
Black Sports: The rumor is that Earl Monroe is a one-on-one basketball player who can’t play team basketball. If he comes to New York, how can he play with Walt Frazier who handles the ball 75 percent at the time? What do you feel about this?
Monroe: Well, basketball is a five-man game. You have five men out there on the court at one time. But also, one-on-one is a part of basketball . . . and I’m a winning ball player, which makes that even more important. I go out to play to win. I don’t just go out to play, just to be there. I take pride in myself and the things that I do.
And regardless of who has the ball, I’m out there to win; I’m not concerned about scoring. I know if we win, I’m going to reap benefits from it anyway, regardless of what I do. It had gotten to the point in Baltimore where I could go out and score just a couple points and still come out of the game with the fans thinking that I had a heck of a game. It had gotten to that point. I hope it’s not going to continue to be like that. Because I really want to do something in New York and really help the team out.
Black Sports: Do you think that you will be loved and adored by the crowds, the Black people here in New York, as you were in Baltimore?
Monroe: I would hope so. You know, any city that you go into, you hope the people like you. As far as the charisma thing, that’s what it all goes back to. It’s just a matter of relating to and identifying with the fans, and that’s what happened in Baltimore. And I’m quite sure that the people in Baltimore will find somebody else to relate to. For right now, it’s just that they are in a state of turmoil, I guess you might say. The people really don’t know what they want to do.
I think Baltimore people are basically very good people. They are the people that made me, so to speak. I went out to play for them when I went to play in Baltimore, and I had no hassle at all about the fans—the fans were beautiful. My only problem was that they were just too few of them.
Black Sports: Earl, are the Black fans around the basketball circuit all the same? Do they react the same?
Monroe: I think Black people are basically the same all over. They may have a little different way of expressing themselves. In the South, they are a little shy, but the further north you get, the more boisterous they get and farther West you go the more Hollywood they get. The Black people basically are the same—circa Souls of Black Folk, you know.
Black Sports: Do you see any racism in the NBA, or in professional basketball . . .
Monroe: Well, racism exists everywhere.
Black Sports: OK, yes, we live in a racist society and sports is just a microcosm. But do you see it as a thing that may limit you and limit what you want to do in basketball?
Monroe: No, I don’t think so because I have a commodity to sell—myself—which I think is about the best commodity I can come up with. And regardless of racism, I’ll do what I want to do and just suffer the consequences . . . the consequences can’t be that great.
Black Sports: There are some who seemed to feel a lot stronger to the reverse of that. Cleo Hill, for one, feels this is exactly what happened to him—racism killed him.
Monroe: Well, as far as Cleo is concerned, I’m quite sure that that’s what it was. But some of the others just couldn’t play ball. But also, you have to have people who know how to handle people. And when you cease to have this type of communication, you are always going to have problems.
Black Sports: Earl, when you’re talking about coaches relating to the players, what is the difference between a Red Holzman and a Gene Shue, in terms of relating to the players or coaching in general?
Monroe: One is a winner; one has never won—that’s probably the difference. Just being with Red Holzman this short time has taught me a lot more basketball than I learned at Baltimore the whole while I was there. A lot of people get on me about defense and what not. And I told Red when I got there that in the all-star game that he coached last year, I learned more in that game about defense than I learned in Baltimore in the whole time I was there.
Black Sports: You’re saying that pro coaches do teach, do coach—they just don’t sit at the helm of a bunch of guys who have knowledge and talent and just say, ‘OK, guys, it’s Monday night and we’re in Los Angeles; time to play again.’
Monroe: Coaches have to know how to blend in and relate to their players.
Black Sports: But do they coach—I mean do they actually coach?
Monroe: Yes—a few of them.
Black Sports: Going back to college, you had some terrific teams down at Winston-Salem, and you played against some great players in the CIAA. Did you ever think that your team could go up to the Big 10 and play in Ohio State or Notre Dame?
Monroe: I felt as though we had just a heck of a team. The whole team was rather cocky, and I don’t care who we would have played . . . we would have gone on and did our thing and did it right.
Black Sports: It has to do with the individuals, not with the school?
Monroe: Oh, the school has nothing to do with it at all, really has nothing to do with it. It’s just the type of players that the coach has, the type of coach that is coaching. You have to be respected and well liked to be a coach. You have to have the respect of your players who want to go out and win for you. This is what Coach Gaines had down at Winston-Salem.
Black Sports: Coach Gaines is now number four on the list of coaches with the greatest won-lost record in college basketball. Yet every time these pro jobs open up, his name is never mentioned. Why?
Monroe: Well, you just have to go in and look at how many Black quarterbacks there are in professional football and look at it in the same light. Of course, going back to press clippings again, a lot of people just haven’t heard of Winston-Salem State.
Black Sports: Why don’t the professional athletes, who have gone on to fame in sports and are doing rather well, use their names to do things for the school?
Monroe: Well, I guess a lot of athletes figured that they really don’t owe the schools anything. The athletes are, in a lot of instances, the ones who have really put the school on the map, and being the type of people that we are—basketball players or athletes in general, are basically very temperamental people—when things are said and done to them that they don’t particularly dig too much, they just rebel. And they rebel in different ways. And you feel, basically, that you really owe the institution nothing because you’re the one out there doing it.
Black Sports: Do you feel that way about your alma mater?
Monroe: No, I enjoy the institution I attended. And I enjoy being a protégé of Coach Gaines. Because of this, a lot of other athletes from Winston-Salem and myself are getting together to donate funds to start an athletic program for the school—something other than the type of program that they already have. The school program now has gone down so much because there’s just no money allotted to the athletic program. I remember when I was in school, the year that we won the national championship, the money that we got from that helped pay off most of the school’s debts for the next two years. So, you see, the athletic program there at the school really helped the school . . . as opposed to the school helping them.
Black Sports: Earl, you’ve had a couple of operations on your knees. What exactly is the problem?
Monroe: I’m getting old. It’s arthritis and rheumatism setting in, it’s just wear-and-tear on my legs. They feel pretty good now. I’ve been off for a couple of weeks, and they feel real good. So physically, I’m about as strong as ever; I’m thinner than I’ve been in the last three or four years. I feel real good. And if my left foot would ever get together, I’ll be all right.
Black Sports: During the course of the past summer, you were in the greatest shape that we’ve ever seen you in. You were slimmed down, you were playing well. If you anticipated sitting out, why did you go to such extremes to get in such great shape?
Monroe: I didn’t really anticipate sitting out at that time. I wanted to come into the season ready, you know, for whatever happened . . . which is the reason why I wanted to be traded at the beginning of the season—so I could have gotten with my new team and been able to contribute from the start. Of course, it didn’t happen that way. And there was a time where I figured, well, maybe I should stay in Baltimore. But then after a lot of things were said and done, and being very temperamental and such, I just kind of dismissed all of those ideas and thoughts.
Black Sports: You mentioned your knees and operations, have you ever permitted them to use drugs on you to kill the pain, allowing you to play?
Monroe: Oh, yes, all the time. Contrary to the fact that I have such bad knees, as everyone says, in the last four years I’ve only missed three regular season games. I missed two one year—one just resting, and I just didn’t start the next one. I played a few minutes less than Hal Greer in four years, and he’s played the top minutes in the NBA in the four years I’ve been here. So, my knees are not really that bad.
Black Sports: In the last couple of years, there’s been a great deal of talk about drugs and the manner in which they are given to athletes. How do you react to them using drugs on you? Are you aware of the possibility that there might be repercussions later on in life?
Monroe: Well, I think it all goes back to what I stated earlier—I’m a winning ballplayer. And I’ll do just about anything to win. And I just felt as though these things were necessary to help the team win a ballgame, and that’s why I did it.
Black Sports: You’re not afraid at any ill effects later on in life, then?
Monroe: No, I don’t think about it because life is just too short to stop and wonder about things. And if I start worrying about it today, I’ll probably die tomorrow.
Black Sports: Do you see yourself involved in basketball later on, after your playing days?
Monroe: Only on playgrounds. I can’t see myself coaching, because I don’t have the right temperament for that. As far as scouting is concerned, that’s just like teaching—there’s no money in it. I really don’t foresee myself in any kind of basketball capacity, except for probably helping out the kids in the community and neighborhoods.
Black Sports: Earl, after basketball, what are you planning? Are you thinking of other businesses? Have you ever really given politics a thought? You’d be quite a candidate in Philadelphia.
Monroe: Well, I’ve never really given politics a thought because, you know, I’ve got kind of a quick temper and I’m temperamental. A guy like that shouldn’t be in politics—really shouldn’t hardly be on the streets, as such! I could be just too militant for things such as politics.
Black Sports: Well, if you call yourself militant and you say you have a quick temper, do people have a picture of the real Earl Monroe?
Monroe: I think my comments and actions over the past three or four years have been a little distorted. For some reason or other, I’ve always been the object of ridicule, in one way or another. I’ve always had trying times with policemen and what not, and it’s all due to just being Black. Because of the things that I say, people really don’t realize how sincere I am. And it poses a problem, not only for myself but also for them. I don’t really know what I’m going to do next. I would just like to clear up the fact that I’m not really crazy. I’m not really crazy, but I’m very sincere about the things that I do.
Black Sports: You spent a lot of time last summer, chasing all around the country with Operation Breadbasket, playing a lot of games. I would have to think that a lot of people can connect without sincerity . . . being concerned, truly, about the Black cause.
Monroe: Right, it’s just a part of me. Recently I sat down and saw a picture starring Jeanne Crain called Pinky. I was sitting in the room with my fiancé, I just cried because of the things that were going on in the picture. That’s basically just how I am.
Black Sports: These kinds of feelings motivate your life and how you react to everything, then?
Monroe: Right, I’m not a crybaby—I’m a concerned individual, that’s all. I’ve always heard, even on records, and I’ve been to different speaking engagements, where brothers would say things like “the only way to help ourselves is to start at home.” And you start at home; you start with love, because that’s where it’s at. This is the whole thing in a nutshell. You start your love at home, your love spreads. You know? Love each other—love your people because everything will be all right in the end.
Black Sports: Yes, with work.
Monroe: Well, that’s always the case—working for what you get.
Black Sports: Since the Black athlete does have the charisma, do you feel he should be involved in anti-gang activities?
Monroe: Well, quite naturally, he has to be involved in it because it involves himself. Personally, I have a cousin who is dealing with gang problems in Philly, and I go to different seminars and talk to the guys that are there. I think that the Black athlete has to be involved in this because when you get guys to look up at you—and they don’t really want to shame themselves in your face—this might help out with the problem, especially if you can get across to the guys who are really leading this area, you know, the really hard-nosed guys. Because the things they do are examples for the other guys.
Black Sports: Earl, as a youngster, were you ever mixed up with the law?
Monroe: I was involved in all that gang activity when I was young. Even my cousins, who were the runners of the gang, the older guys, are in jail right now. But I’m quite sure that when they get out of jail, they’re going to be cool about the kind of things that they had been into. They now know better, and maybe they realized that they must help with the solution to our problems. Which brings me back to something I’d like to talk about.
Brothers, all around the country are talking without genocide and who’s wiping us out and what not. We’ve never stopped to think about ourselves, right there in Philly. Every year, you find 20 to 30 teenagers being killed. And by whom? By ourselves. Like this is the generation that’s growing up to be the leaders of our country.
And I say our country because we built this country, regardless of whether we are classified as second-class citizens or not. But it’s the brothers out there, killing each other that’s the other real genocide. And, if we can stop the brothers from doing that, then we’ll be able to take things in hand and better our lot. But if we don’t, at this rate, we’re not going to have anybody left to fight against anything. You talk about revolution—revolutionize what? You know, there’s not going to be anyone here for the revolution. I just wanted to get that across, and maybe some brothers will read this and really take heed and notice what’s really going on out here.
And if there’s any type of genocide that’s going on, let it not be done by us.