Initially, Earl Monroe saw himself studying at Winston Salem-State University to become a teacher. But after his talent shined on the court, he became a record-breaking basketball player. From becoming the highest-scoring player in the CIAA to an NBA championship win, Monroe has quite the story to tell. Now, his legacy will live on in youth for years to come. Read his captivating story from Winston-Salem Journal below to find out how.

Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, who is in nearly every hall of fame there is, will get another honor this summer when a new chartered high school in New York City is named for him.

The Earl Monroe New Renaissance Basketball High School will be located in The Bronx with its first class of freshmen starting this fall. The charter high school will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony in June and will open in September. The school will have its new building by 2023.

“This is a project that I couldn’t do by myself because if that was the case it never would have happened,” the former Winston-Salem State star said by phone from New York City. “Our board of directors and Dan Klores have put my vision together and we’re excited about it.”

Earl “The Pearl” Monroe was in Winston-Salem in April 2019 to accept the Ann Lewallen Spencer Sports Connector Award from the National Sports Media Association.
(Courtesy of Andrew Dye)

Before he died, NBA commissioner David Stern was also on the board of directors and was a big influence on the project, which has been in progress since late 2017. Others who have helped Monroe see this vision are Russ Granik, Val Ackerman, Marv Albert, Sonny Hill, Bill Rudin, Michele Roberts, Liz Robbins and Jeff Zucker.

Klores was the New York City-based co-producer with Monroe for “Black Magic,” a documentary paying homage to HBCU basketball legends and history. Klores led a successful public relations firm before becoming an award-winning producer.

Now Monroe, a legendary HBCU player himself, is putting his name on a high school that he’s proud of.

“It has basketball in the name of the school, but it will be about more than just playing the game,” Monroe said. “About 99% of our students will come from diverse backgrounds, and we will be keeping each class to 18 and no more than 20 students.”

About 80 freshmen will enroll this summer, and in four years Monroe said the school would have 430 students. Monroe said families of children can apply to the school, part of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Hall of Fame basketball player Earl Monroe with a retired jersey from the NBA’s Washington Wizards, formerly the Baltimore Bullets, in November 2007. (Courtesy of the Associated Press)

Monroe said the school would expose youth to careers within the sports industry while still having an emphasis on academics. Courses will be offered in broadcast journalism, business, law, finance, print media, analytics, digital media, coaching, physical rehabilitation, nutrition, design, psychology and sports agency.

“It will only be maybe 12 percent of the students who play basketball for the school and participate in the league,” he said. “Our commitment is not only toward each student but to their families as well, and all of our marketing materials will be bilingual.”

Soon after his retirement, in the 1980s, Monroe started a small academy; this is bigger and broader.

“Our motto is ‘a ball and a book can help change the world,'” Monroe said. “Basketball is such a global common denominator.  We are not a ‘sports school,’ but we believe strongly in our mission, that the fruits and lessons of the game, off the court, can be used as a tool of hope, teaching, educating and listening.”

Monroe, a 1967 Winston-Salem State graduate whose NBA career earned him entry into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, is the all-time leading scorer in WSSU and CIAA history. He helped lead the Rams and Coach Big House Gaines to a Division II national championship in the 1966-67 season.

During his stellar playing career with the Baltimore Bullets and the New York Knicks, he teamed with Walt Frazier to help the Knicks win the 1973 NBA championship, the franchise’s most recent title.

After his retirement from basketball in 1980, Monroe settled in New York City and had several successful business ventures. In 1996, Monroe was selected as one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, and a ranking in 2020 of the league’s all-time best by placed Monroe at No. 64.

Earl Monroe is the all-time leading scorer in CIAA history with 2,935 points. (Courtesy of Winston-Salem State University)

Monroe, 76, was born and raised in Philadelphia. He arrived at WSSU in fall 1963 with his good friend, Steve Smith, after deciding to play for Gaines. Both had never seen the campus until they arrived by train from Philadelphia.

One of Monroe’s inspirations throughout his life was the legendary Gaines, who died in April 2005. Gaines preached education and the importance of earning a college degree to Monroe and his teammates.

“I think this would put a smile on Coach’s face if he was still around,” Monroe said. “And this is something he would be proud of because he always stressed the importance of education. Coach Gaines also talked a lot about giving back, and he was constantly on us to work in the classroom toward our degrees.”

Monroe graduated with a teaching degree but instead became an NBA star.

“It’s kind of come full circle because WSSU was known as a teacher’s college, and that’s what I would have become if not for basketball,” Monroe said.

Monroe is proud that the entire 1966-67 team graduated, and he said his education was a testament to HBCUs.

“Enter to learn, depart to serve,” Monroe said about WSSU’s mantra. “I have so much respect for the city of Winston-Salem and for WSSU and what it did for me back in the day.

“I think folks are coming to understand the impact graduate HBCUs can have on our society. You look now at (vice president-elect) Kamala Harris (a Howard graduate) and (Georgia senator) Raphael Warnock (a Morehouse College graduate), and it shows what impact the HBCU experience can have on individuals.”

Bob Ryan, Boston Globe columnist and author, discusses his memories from covering Earl ‘The Pearl’ Monroe. (Courtesy of Andrew Dye)