In honor of Pearl Washington and the celebration of his life happening this weekend, Syracuse Athletics has started a Twitter hashtag called #RememberingPearl. SU fans, alumni, and luminaries can share their favorite memories of Pearl and what he meant to them.
I don’t have anything to say particularly because Pearl Washington was before my time. I was eight when he left SU for the NBA. It was still another year before I would begin caring about college basketball and my school of choice at the time made it unlikely that I would have had fond feelings about him even if I had been watching.
Pearl represents the dividing line between the time when Jim Boeheim’s SU program was merely good and when Jim Boeheim’s SU program became great. It was Pearl who helped break the 30K barrier in the Dome and it was Pearl who set the tone from which Final Fours and All-Americans would spring forth.
He’s also one of those markers for the Syracuse fanbase. One of those people or events that delineates us along generational lines. You saw Pearl play or you merely know him anecdotally. You know what it felt like in the Dome when his BC buzzer-beater sank or you’ve merely watched it on YouTube. You have a true sense of just how good Pearl was or you’re left to trust what others say to determine where he ranks.
It’s interesting that the Syracuse - Georgetown game is the one that will be the backdrop of the Pearl celebration because that classic rivalry is quickly becoming one of those delineations as well. There’s something poetic about SU honoring one of it’s all-time greatest players during a game against it’s all-time greatest rival (Sorry, Colgate), but there’s also something bittersweet about it as well.
Most current Syracuse University students only know a world in which SU plays in the ACC. They, along with a young generation of new Orange faithfuls, get excited about the possibilities when the Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels come to town, because those are the rivalries that will carry us forward and matter. There’s no doubt that they understand the importance of Syracuse vs. Georgetown, but they also understand that Syracuse vs. Georgetown is a game that happens in December. If it happens at all in a given season.
The outcome is important and every Syracuse fan wants to win, but by the time February rolls around, the value doesn’t match that of a Duke game, or even a Pitt game, anymore. Sad but true. And as the years roll on, the game will have even less importance as we get further away from it’s heyday and a growing base of new fans replaces old ones.
So in a way, Saturday’s game is a remembrance of two different things, both wholly critical to the history of Syracuse hoops. We’re remembering a player as well as a rivalry, both of which helped make Orange basketball what it is today. Pearl’s jersey hangs in the rafters and Georgetown will continue to take on SU on the court below, but the power of both fade a little bit in the rearview mirror with each passing year. Such is the nature of all things as history becomes legend, even in a world of YouTube videos and 30 for 30 documentaries.
There are many SU fans who can remember watching Pearl on the court and know what it was like when Syracuse - Georgetown was at it’s apex. For my generation, Pearl Washington is a legend I didn’t get to appreciate in person but the energy and vitriol of the Georgetown rivalry remained. For the next generation of Orange fans, they’ll have to rely on the rest of us for both. It’s a burden all fanbases must carry forward, but something tells me it’s a burden we’ll carry gladly.