Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Thank You Pearl

Pearl Washington
The Pearl

I don't think anyone can ever underestimate the importance of Dwayne 'Pearl' Washington to Syracuse basketball, and the outpouring of affection and remembrances from the community is testament to that.

The Pearl played basketball with a different style than those before him.  The younger fans today may be jaded by the performance of the numerous NBA players who patterned part of their game style after the Pearl, making some of the things he did more commonplace today.  But he was an original.

The Pearl was not the most athletic player on the court. He was not exceptionally fast, and he could not jump or leap very well.  He wasn't even a great perimeter shooter.  But he could do four things, routinely on the court:

  1. Simply score.  He was able to drive to the hoop against anyone, and when he got to the basket he simply made the layup, or had a floater over a defender.  I'm not sure if he could even dunk the ball... not that it mattered.  And it did not matter who defended him; the Pearl made defenders look foolish. His triple fake against Georgetown's Gene Smith in the Big East tourney is well known.
  2. Great passer.  The Pearl was the school's all time assist man when he left, despite playing only three years.  He had great court vision, was very good with wrap around passed and no look touch passes. 
  3. Great teammate.  The Pearl could score, but he focused on making his teammates better.  The guys around him were better players because of him.  As fans we took for granted how much he surpressed his scoring ability. It became apparent how great a scorer he truly was when Raf Addison was hampered down the stretch of Pearl's last season, and the Pearl went on a tremendous scoring spree over the last 12 games or so, stepping up and doing the scoring now that the team's leading scorer (Raf) was unavailable.
  4. Amazing Everyone.  Pearl was electric on the court.  Fans wanted to see him play, and they flocked to see him.  I'm sure opposing players had to be in awe at times; Jim Boeheim in his press conference earlier today admitted he caught himself at times watching the Pearl play, instead of focusing on coaching. He was mesmerizing.
Boeheim mentioned in his press conference earlier today how humble the Pearl was.  He was electrifying on the court, and you would have assumed that persona carried off the court.  But, for all accounts, that was just his basketball style. Off the court, Pearl was a good friend, teammate and humble.

My favorite memory of the Pearl?  I didn't have a lot of opportunities to go to Syracuse games when I was younger.  We used to go to one or two games a year.  My senior year in high school, my father and I went to see the Orangemen play Boston College on January 24, 1984.  It was a great game, with a lot of back and forth action.  It looked like the Orangemen were going to lose the game when BC's Martin Clark was fouled with a few seconds left on the clock and the Eagles down by one.  Clark made the first free throw to tie the game. He missed the second free throw; the ball ended up in the hands of the Pearl, who raced down the court, and just before mid court he launched a half court shot. Of course, as all Orange fans know, the ball swished through the hoop and the Orangemen won.   In true Pearl style, after Washington released the shot he kept running down the court and when the ball went through, and the crowd erupted, the Pearl kept running straight into the Syracuse locker room.  As if he knew he had made the shot the whole time.

Pearl, God bless you and your family.  

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