Sad news broke on Wednesday that Syracuse Orange basketball legend Pearl Washington passed away due to a brain tumor diagnosed in 2005. Pearl was 52 years old.
Washington was one of the all-time great players to play for the Orange.
“There is no better guy and there’s nobody that has meant more to our basketball program than Dwayne Washington,” head coach Jim Boeheim said after the win over Georgia Tech in January.
Dwayne "Pearl" Washington played at Syracuse from 1983-1986. He scored 1,490 points, which is 25th in school history. Pearl ranks fourth in program history with 631 assists, including a freshman record 199. He is fifth in Syracuse history with 220 steals.
The most famous Pearl moment may be against Boston College in his freshman season. With the game tied 73-73, the Eagles missed a free-throw and Washington heaved a shot from half-court that went in as the buzzer sounded. Pearl raised his arms and ran into the team’s tunnel as the ball went through the net.
Pearl's crossover became a thing of legends, as it left many defenders in his wake. It is still considered one of the best crossovers in basketball history.
From a Syracuse Athletics release:
"He honed his skills and built his reputation on the cement and black-top and high school courts of New York City. Washington earned the nickname "Pearl" as a youngster, a tribute to NBA great Earl "The Pearl" Monroe. It wasn't long before he owned "Pearl" on its own, in place of Dwayne.
"Washington excelled at Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn and was regarded as one of the top high school seniors in the nation in 1983. He was named MVP of the McDonald's High School All-American Game.
"He enrolled at Syracuse during a time in which BIG EAST Conference basketball began grabbing the national stage. Washington, along with national contemporaries Patrick Ewing (Georgetown) and Chris Mullin (St. John's) and others, raised the profile of the league to dizzying heights."
In Washington's final season, the Orange went 14-2 in the Big East and shared the regular season title. They knocked off Georgetown in the semifinals with a 75-73 overtime victory before falling to St. John's in the tournament championship game. Washington was still named MVP of the tournament. He scored 21 points and had 11 assists against the Hoyas while pouring in 20 points and dishing 14 assists against the Redmen.
Admittedly, I was too young to really remember what Pearl Washington meant to the school and to understand the phenomena during its time. I’ve heard plenty of stories, seen highlights and read quite a bit about the man and player, but there is nothing like experiencing something.
So, as a result, I interviewed my dad, Jim McAllister, who is a die-hard Syracuse basketball fan and experienced the Pearl era in order to get a more appropriate perspective on his legacy.
Q: What was the significance of Pearl Washington coming to Syracuse?
JM: “Pearl Washington was the first high profile player to commit to Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange. It solidified a program on the rise, as opposed to just being a flash in the pan.”
Q: What do you remember about Pearl Washington’s career and how it helped the program?
JM: “Pearl electrified Syracuse from his first game to his last. He was more than just a top recruit; he signaled the arrival, and intent to stay, of Syracuse on the national scene. And his smile was just as captivating as his play.
“The first, and perhaps the biggest impact Pearl had was when Syracuse hosted Boston College at the Dome. As whistles tightened a game Syracuse dominated, it came down to a tied game, BC at the free throw line, and just a few tics left on the clock. The free throw clanged; Syracuse rebounded and fired an outlet to Pearl at half court. The best part wasn’t that Pearl swished the shot, but that he headed for the locker room as soon as the ball left his hands!
“Pearl became Syracuse that night. Perpetually underrated underdogs using equal parts of grit and flash to overcome the likes of Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullins, and John Pinone.”
Q: How exciting was it to go to the Carrier Dome to see Pearl play live?
JM: “How exciting would it be to see Pavarotti, Billy Joel, or The Beatles live? Pearl was the best.”
Q: In your opinion, is Syracuse basketball where it is today without Pearl?
JM: “Pearl helped Jim Boeheim define Syracuse basketball. Syracuse could have been another Temple or Seton Hall without him.”
Q: Did you ever have any interactions with Pearl and what were they like?
JM: “I met Pearl a few times on the hill. While he was playing, I was attending SUNY Upstate. He was always kind and quick with a smile. That was impressive for the Biggest Man On Campus since Floyd Little. Like most Syracuse fans, every time I think of Pearl my first reaction is to smile.”
Q: What is Pearl’s legacy in your opinion?
JM: “Some say that Pearl’s legacy lies in The Orange making the NCAA Final Four the year after he left; they mean that to belittle his place in Syracuse history. I look at it differently.
“Sherman Douglas may not have been the player he became without a year of practicing against Pearl. Without Douglas, Syracuse doesn’t reach that Final Four.
“Without Pearl, Derek Coleman may not have come to Syracuse. Or Ronny Seikaly. Not that Pearl didn’t have his share of disappointments. He wouldn’t have been True Orange without them. But something about Pearl made you forget about anything except the successes.
“Those successes were just so spectacular! The final legacy of The Pearl at Syracuse? The smile that infects your face when you remember him.”
Check out the video tribute at the top of the page made by Syracuse fans.