Earl “The Pearl” Monroe didn’t need the cane.
As Monroe, 70, stood out at center court at the Gaines Center on Saturday afternoon, he posed for pictures and congratulated the six former men’s and women’s players who were honored as part of the Legacy Weekend. Monroe was part of the festivities during halftime of the Rams’ 82-67 win over St. Augustine's.
Monroe, who has chronic bad knees, often needs to use a cane these days; but because he was on a basketball court again, he felt strong enough to stand without it. So the cane was put down and Monroe played his role perfectly — the legend helping out his alma mater.
Monroe, who is Winston-Salem State’s most famous former athlete, loved being a part of the Earl Monroe Legacy Weekend at his former school. This was the third weekend in the last five years that the basketball homecoming was held — and the first time he was able to make the trip from New York.
“This has been a great experience being back and I’ve met the new chancellor (Elwood Robinson), and Tonia Walker is doing a great job as the athletics director, so it’s been fun,” Monroe said. “It’s important to come back and show support for the work they are doing.”
Monroe, a 1967 graduate of WSSU, starred for the Rams under the late Big House Gaines. The life lessons Monroe learned from Gaines, he said, could fill a book. But one of the biggest lessons he learned was giving back to the school.
“Coach always told us to give back and to come back once we got out in the real world,” said Monroe, who starred for the Baltimore Bullets and the New York Knicks of the NBA after his college days.
Health issues didn’t allow Monroe, who lives New York, to come to the first two Earl Monroe Legacy Weekends. This time around, however, he said he felt strong enough to make the trip to help support his alma mater.
“It’s interesting that a lot of the these kids here in college might not know who Big House Gaines is, but we all benefited from the sacrifices he made early on,” Monroe said.
Monroe, who scored a CIAA record 2,935 points in 110 games for the Rams, averaged 41.5 points a game in his senior season, when the Rams won the Division II national championship in 1967.
He admitted that he didn’t know the Legacy Weekend was named after him until he arrived late Friday night in Winston-Salem.
“I really am honored that they would name if after me,” said Monroe, who helped the New York Knicks to their last NBA title in 1973. “It’s a great feeling that they think enough of me to name a weekend after me. Hopefully I can be worthy of the cause.”
Monroe, who is an avid fan of the NBA, couldn’t resist taking a shot at the lowly Knicks, who have the worst record in the league at 5-36.
“It’s hard to watch,” Monroe said. “You turn the games on and it’s the same as it was before. Hopefully they will get themselves together but I didn’t anticipate it being this bad. I thought they would have a good team but it’s unbelievably bad.
“Now they are hoping to get the No. 1 pick but you never know how it is going to go with the Ping-Pong balls.”
Monroe said it’s so bad that he might make a comeback.
“The other day I was talking with John Stockton and I said if it keeps going like this maybe you and I might have to get back out there,” Monroe said with a laugh.
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