Many people consider New York City the mecca of basketball, though that thought is running purely on myth juice at this point. Current NBA rosters have so little NYC representation that it’s a little embarrassing to still call it a mecca. Sure, there’s Madison Square Garden, the world’s best basketball arena, and the world famous Rucker Park, but the level of talent from gotham is pretty thin. But a real heyday of NYC basketball and Brooklyn basketball specifically, was in the 80’s, and one of the most dominant players of that decade, was Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, who died on Wednesday, April 20th, at the age of 52, of brain cancer.
The Brownsville native, out of the Seth Low Housing Projects, was such a wizard with the ball, that his nickname is a homage to NBA Hall Of Famer, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. He was the number one high school player in the nation and would bring out huge crowds to High School games, many years before ESPN was broadcasting the McDonald’s All American game (of which, Pearl was the ’83 MVP) or Lebron James was getting stalked at St. Mary’s High School, in Akron OH, like he was Kanye West.
He went on to star at Syracuse University, where he was a three time All American, playing for coach Jim Boeheim, when Big East Basketball was the Beast of The East and featured future NBA talent like Mark Jackson and Derrick Coleman, and future Hall Of Famers like Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing.
Pearl Washington was the early progenitor of the shake and bake handle, so when you look at Steph Curry today, know that his handle is descendant from a long lineage of New York City basketball guards, of which, Pearl was one of the most celebrated. The Big East of the 80’s was wildly popular and the league’s rise to prominence, coincided with the debut of ESPN as an all sports station, which covered the league like a blanket and hence, Pearl had a national spotlight that illuminated his spectacular ball handling skills and dribble drive game. He was a rock star with the rock, and beloved by Syracuse University, who retired his number back in 1996.
Though widely recognized for his play at the collegiate level and not so much for his short NBA career, the biggest impact of the Pearl, was arguably on the high school level. He was a huge attraction at Boys & Girls High, in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, back when the gigantic school was alive with students, far more than the roughly 350 kids currently taking class in the historic building. Pearl represented Brooklyn to the fullest, whether at an outdoor court up in Harlem or in the NCAA basketball tournament. He went on to get degree from Syracuse, after retiring from the NBA, which many current players should make a note of.
Dwayne Washington died as a beloved collegiate player, coach, friend and human being and definitely represented BK to the fullest.