Earl "the Pearl" Monroe

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This live interview first aired live on April 23, 2013. An edited version was re-broadcast as part of a special best-of show for Labor Day on September 2, 2013.

With the Knicks in the playoffs and 40 years after the team he was a part of won the championshipEarl "the Pearl" Monroe, former New York Knick, Hall of Fame inductee and author of Earl The Pearl: My Story (Rodale Books, 2013)stops by to talk about the NBA then and now.

→ VIDEO: Earl The Pearl describing how he learned to dribble to music.

Excerpt: Earl "The Pearl" Monroe on Life in NYC, Style, and the Knicks' Championship Run

As I became better acclimated to life in New York City, I was getting into music more and more. Man, there was music everywhere--you know? Salsa, pop, jazz. Miles's albums--A Tribute to Jack Johnson, Bitches Brew, and On the Corner--with those weird-ass psychedelic drawings on the covers and that thumping music inside, really moved me. So did the music of Gladys Knight and the Pips, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, the O'Jays, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind and Fire, and the Persuaders, whose song "Thin Line between Love and Hate" was a favorite of mine. Those were the artists whose songs we listened to at parties during this period. And in addition to all of that great music, I had also been influenced from a young age by the "Philly Sound," you know, artists like Gamble and Huff, the Delfonics, the Stylistics, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Patti LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass, Grover Washington Jr., Solomon Burke, and all the other great musicians from my hometown.

Also, the 1970s blaxploitation films had a big influence on black people and our culture, films like Shaft, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Cotton Comes to Harlem, Hit Man, Blacula, Trouble Man, The Mack, Trick Baby, The Spook Who Sat by the Door, Gordon's War, Coffy, Cleopatra Jones, Black Caesar, and especially Super Fly, which hit movie theaters in August 1972. This film had a huge cultural impact on many black Americans, especially in New York City. Everywhere you looked in the Big Apple, from 1972 until the beginning of the '80s--on the streets of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem, and Midtown Manhattan--you saw black men and women wearing platform shoes (or, as some people called them, "ankle breakers"), long mink coats (in the winter), wide-brimmed hats, and bell-bottom pants, and women in real short miniskirts. Men and women both wore big, Afro-style hairdos, while other, more street-oriented men wore their hair in long, pimp-style processed hairdos a la the late Ron O'Neal's Super Fly character, Youngblood Priest. And Curtis Mayfield's hit soundtrack to Super Fly and Isaac Hayes's to Shaft could be heard blaring all over Harlem and the black neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

It was Super Fly--directed by the late, great photographer Gordon Parks--Mr. O'Neal's character, and the film's soundtrack that defined a certain black urban style in that period. I know for sure that it influenced the personal styles of Walt Frazier and myself, as we adopted Youngblood Priest's look of wide-brimmed Borsalino hats, long mink coats, stylish suits with bell-bottom trousers, and platform shoes. But Clyde didn't wear his hair in the long pimp style Ron O'Neal wore in Super Fly. Instead, he wore a moustache, long sideburns, and a goatee. Clyde lived in the penthouse of a building on East 52nd Street, had a round bed covered with a mink spread, and tooled around in a two-toned burgundy Rolls-Royce with an array of beautiful women. On the other hand, I had come to town with a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow myself, had a moustache and a tiny goatee, and wore long, stylish coats and platform shoes, too. But I lived on the Upper West Side and not in a penthouse. We both were influenced by the style of Super Fly and its classic soundtrack, which could have served as our theme music during this period. But neither of us was influenced by drug dealers, or street life, or any of the other stuff depicted in the film. For me it was the power of Curtis Mayfield's music that swept me away. But as I have said, both of us were shy, in fact quiet and private, off the court.

But because we also had flamboyant public personas on the basketball court and off and drove Rolls-Royces, and because the media dubbed us the "Rolls-Royce backcourt," we were wrongly thought of as loud, boisterous, and all kinds of other adjectives. Many didn't think we would survive playing together because they assumed our personalities and games would clash. But that never happened because we had great respect for one another--and deep affection, too--from competing against each other for so long. Now, we had discovered that our games could mesh and we were complementary parts of a well-oiled, efficient team of stars who never let their individual egos get in the way of playing and winning together as a team. Clyde and I remain close friends to this day.

By playoff time we were firing on all cylinders as a team, and after disposing of the Bullets we went to Boston with a lot of confidence. But we were thrashed by Boston in Game One, 134-108, one of our worst losses of the season. The Celtics had six players reach double figures, led by Jo Jo White with 30 and Havlicek with 26. Clyde led us with 24 points, but we were never really in the game. So we came back to New York and had two days' rest before Game Two. This time we came out swinging and thumped Boston 129-96, handing them one of their worst defeats of the season. Even steven. Eight Knicks reached double figures that night and 11 of our 12 players scored, which was a testament to Coach Holzman's philosophy of hitting the open man and playing team ball. Again, Clyde was the high man with 24. Series on.

Reprinted from “Earl the Pearl” by Earl Monroe with Quincy Troupe. Copyright (c) 2013 by Earl Monroe. By permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold.