Knicks fans can take a lesson on how they treated Earl Monroe


He was terrible. He was desperate. They were looking for answers. We know this exactly 50 years later, because all of the Knicks 112-111 victory over the Phoenix Suns on November 16, 1971, is in the black-and-white newspaper.

“I’m awful,” Earl (Pearl) Monroe said. “It’s frustrating. I’m looking for answers right now.”

It was the Knicks ‘third game, and five days later the Knicks sent their most famous pair, Mike Riordan and Dave Stallworth (as well as a boatload of cash) to the Baltimore Bullets to replace Pearl, the Knicks’ one-time rival, Walt Frazier’s one-time Archnemesis, and now their one-peg test. Trying to jam in the square hole. And this didn’t go down well with Pearl.

He hit the ball nine times during his 13 minutes of play that night. He missed all nine. Each time they grouped 18,344 fans into the garden, they waited for the explosion, officially embracing them. He never did. He could never. He made three free throws. He had three assists (the frontrunner enjoyed the first version of the team’s first Pearl the Nix, which was not always the shoot-first-and-shoot version in Baltimore).

There was a prank in the garden that night.

Knicks
Earl Monroe received the Knicks uniform in 1971 by coach Red Holzman
Arthur Pomerantz

They somehow cheered him up. There was no hint of flame. Now, yes: it’s easy to be in a good mood as a Knicks fan in those days. He has been removed from the title 18 months. He will play in another NBA Finals six months later. He wins the second championship a year later. Even that night, he overcame a 19-point deficit with nine minutes remaining – think about doing it without a 3-point shot – and the Suns didn’t win all the time in New York.

Well? Clyde scored 39 points on that night (16-22 shooting) and added eight assists and outscored the Suns 13-11 down the stretch and added game-clinching free throws with 17 seconds left. Clyde put the Knicks fans on his team in a good mood for the better part of a decade.

Still: Not a boo. It was a testament to that time and Pearl looked back on itself.

“It amazes me how much the Knicks fans have been with me,” Pearl told me on the 25th anniversary of the trade 25 years ago. “I was an outsider. I was the enemy a week ago. But I was hurt and I didn’t play well right away and it seems that it didn’t matter. He was patient with me and I appreciated it.

Ah. Patience.

While it is sure to fall on the ear, there is definitely a lesson to be learned here. Partly because the Knicks have begun to specialize in the occasional good mood for their fans (though they did bring home a four-game losing streak with the Pacers on Monday night at MSG).

But mostly it is a product of our time. November 16, 1971 may be 50 years but November 16, 2021 is a completely different solar system. The seasons were then allowed to breathe. In fact, the Knicks pulled off a 7-9 record in the game against the Suns, and they lost Willis Reed (for the rest of the season, as it turned out) with a knee injury.

Knicks
Earl Monroe
Corey Sipkin

And the truth is that Pearl’s arrival meant that Frazier was on the clock as well. Frazier certainly believed Monroe’s acquisition was probably what the Knicks wanted to deal with. What they didn’t do years later is beside the point. Knicks fans respect Clyde and Pearl was a threat.

But he was a great player. Knicks fans took a closer look at that part.

And so he didn’t shout. He allowed Pearl’s bum foot to recover, and Pearl began to feel his way with his new band, and he and Clyde began learning the first few notes of backcourt jazz, which kept the garden alive for years.

In 1971, not every basketball game was considered a football game, just as things were in 2021. Patience was truly a virtue. And maybe even today if given the chance.

.

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