This weekend's news about Syracuse legend Pearl Washington has touched a lot of Syracuse fans. For a younger generation, you might not have had the opportunity to see the Pearl play, so Sean and John thought an "older person's" perspective might be welcomed. I know that many of our commenters probably saw Pearl play in the Dome, of which I am incredibly jealous.
I grew up in New England in the 80s and got to witness the growth of Big East basketball. One of those early memories was a Saturday game on the USA Network between the Syracuse Orange and Boston College Eagles. You might remember seeing this video a few times (and yes that's Al Albert on the call for USA)
While this shot served as my introduction to Pearl, the fact is that he had been the player people went out of their way to see in New York City. As this piece by Bobbito Garcia from Slam Magazine reminds us, it wasn't that long ago that basketball legends made their name on the playgrounds, inspiring stories that truly are the stuff of legends,
"Pearl showed up to King Towers on a motorcycle with a fly-ass girl on the back," recalled Arnold "A Train" Bernard, who was inspired as a kid by Washington. "He drove right to half court, parked it, dropped 55 points, then left. That’s some real legend shit. I wanted to be just like him!"
It also talks about Pearl not being the first to bring the playground style to the hardwood, but that the rise of the Big East Conference and cable television gave him a new audience. One of the first players to be influenced was Tim Hardaway,
"He faked like he was going left," Hardaway said. "It wasn't a crossover. He didn't put it between his legs, but rolled the ball in front of him."
You can see more from Hardaway and others in this video talking about the cross-over:
Those of you who watched Pearl play more than I did can probably rattle off other players who followed Pearl's style on the court. To me, I look at players like Hardaway, Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson, and current players like Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose. Pearl wasn't known as a deadly shooter, but his ball-handling abilities allowed him to get to the rim against the toughest defenders. He was a player who often shone the brightest on the biggest stages.
During my years as a student at SU, I had the opportunity to take classes with a couple of Syracuse legends. One was Pearl, as he was back on campus after his brain tumor had first been discovered. What I remember most was his desire to give back, to teach and coach younger players, and to have an impact off of the court. I think what we've seen the last few months is that Pearl has certainly accomplished this goal.