Well, we’re into Legends Territory. It’s fun to go back and look at Earl Monroe’s numbers – and mostly, how underwhelming they are for a player of his stature – because they just highlight exactly how he got to where he is. Not with numbers, but by helping reinvent the game and bring it into the modern era.
Obviously, in 2011, sketchy stats come with some absurd obligation to pick them apart and retroactively explain why he wasn’t as good as we thought. Right now, basketball-reference.com is trying to inform me that Monroe was the 80th best player in history. But here’s a good rule of thumb: when a guy’s nicknames include, “Pearl,” “Rolls Royce” (as part of the backcourt with Walt Frazier), “Thomas Edison” and “Black Jesus,” we may need to look past the raw numbers.
Fortunately most of us do, and even more fortunately, we have Earl Monroe to look back on as a part of Knicks history. We all know about his style of play – he apparently earned the nickname “Thomas Edison” for how many moves he invented on the Philly playgrounds – but I’ll just point out that there were serious questions about how Monroe would mesh with Frazier when the Knicks traded for him in 1971. It feels like you don’t see these types of experiments going well in the 21st century: Zach Randolph/Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury/anbody come to mind. (Hell, they’re both great, but let’s throw Ellis/Curry in there too.) I have a feeling we’ll be covering Frazier in a few days, but for now, props to the Pearl for making it work and delivering us a title. For a guy with that otherworldly talent, it couldn’t have been easy.