For Black History Month, we will spotlight some of the greatest athletes in Historically Black College and University History. Today we kick it off with the man known as “The Pearl.” and “Black Jesus.”
Those nicknames describe the game of one of the greatest Basketball players of all time perfectly. Vernon Earl Monroe grew up wanting to be a soccer player but by his teenage years, he grew to 6’3 and developed a love for Basketball. Monroe developed his shake and bake style in his South Philadelphia neighborhood but after high school and Prep-School, he went on to play with Winston-Salem State Rams and famed College Basketball coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines.
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Monroe started to blossom as a sophomore at Winston-Salem State averaging 23.2 points and improving to 29.8 points his junior year. In his senior season, the legend of “The Pearl was born. Monroe averaged 41.5 points his senior year and earned NCAA College Division Player of the Year honors. He led the Rams to the 1967 NCAA College Division Championship with a 77–74 victory over SW Missouri State in the Finals.
Monroe was drafted number 2 overall by the Baltimore Bullets in the 1967 NBA Draft. In a game versus the Los Angeles Lakers, Monroe scored 56 points, at the time the third-highest rookie total in NBA history. He went on to average 24.3 points per game and won the League Rookie of the Year.
In 1971 Monroe was traded to the New York Knicks, forming a back court with point guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier. The duo along with teammates Bill Bradley, Jerry Lucas and Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere won the 1973 NBA title.
For his career, Monroe averaged Points 18.8 ppg, 3.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Along with his 1973 NBA title, Monroe’s accolades include:
- 4× NBA All-Star (1969, 1971, 1975, 1977)
- All-NBA First Team (1969)
- NBA Rookie of the Year (1968)
- NBA All-Rookie First Team (1968)
- NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team
- No. 15 retired by New York Knicks
- No. 10 retired by Washington Wizards
And in 1990, Monroe was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.