Pearl Washington was before my time. Up until recently, I knew him in name only, and even had little confidence in that. I knew he was from New York City, and that he was a really good point guard. One of the best of the bunch ever seen, so I’ve heard. That’s it. Prior to figuring how exactly how he did what he did with the roundball, I didn’t know how long he’d played and how unnervingly short his professional career had been — just three seasons and under 200 games. I didn’t know he was out of the league at age 25. I certainly didn’t know that he was a New Jersey Net.
With little known and less to go on, I reached out to Michael Tillery, a modern-day renaissance man from Philadelphia known for his revolutionary writing style and social commentary. In addition to that, Michael is an NBA, NFL, and MLB historian and a credentialed member of the press. Also, a friend.
Here are some quotes from our conversation (in italics) concerning what Michael had to say about the Brownsville native:
He used to lay it up from the foul line… Pearl perfected it.
Allegedly, Mark Jackson tried to copy Pearl’s patented move, and it soon became a staple of all the NYC point guards during the early to mid 1980s.
He was all New York, he was nothing but New York. (He was) kinda like how God Shammgod was… like Michael Vick in diapers.
Pearl built his success on his improvisational skills. He wasn’t blessed with otherworldly athleticism, but created a career out of his ballhandling skills and court sense. Much of the time, defenders had no idea what Pearl was going to do because Pearl himself didn’t know what he was going to do. Every play could end with a different result, as he had a profound ability at penetrating and scoring at the hoop.
He wasn’t a dunker, he was just an old-school New York player.
And would embarrass you with said foul-line lay-up for good measure.
He was an amazing player. He had an unmatched talent.
Michael added that Pearl’s “I do what I wanna do” M.O. was a predecessor to Allen Iverson, whose more successful career (to put it lightly) allowed him a bit more freedom with his ways.
Pearl’s NBA career ran its course in 1989, after just three disappointing seasons with the Nets and Miami Heat. After a dazzling college career at Syracuse landed him as the 13th overall pick in 1986, Washington’s lack of NBA athleticism & initiative left him as just another legend that failed to expound on the starlit skies of his youth. As for post-NBA life, Washington’s exploits landed him in the CBA for some time, and coached a New York City girls’ basketball team up until a few years ago, when he departed to explore other ventures and ambiguous opportunities elsewhere. God only knows if those opportunities showed themselves to be true.
It’s a shame that a guy nicknamed “Pearl” failed to stay so precious on the hardwood. In what’s become a running theme for Nets prospects, his career’s got a case of the “shouldas”: it should’ve been longer. It should’ve been more electrifying. It should’ve made more of a dent in the NBA’s history. Instead, Pearl goes down as just another prospect from the infamous 1986 draft, unable to turn his college exploits into a meaningful NBA career.