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Earl Monroe dishes on Stephen Curry, Pistol Pete Maravich and prepping kids for careers in basketball

The Knicks legend speaks from the Earl Monroe New Renaissance Basketball School in New York, where he’s still a star

Ask NBA legend Earl Monroe about the greatness of Stephen Curry, and the Hall of Famer’s response is prefaced with a tale of a night just over 45 years ago when Pistol Pete Maravich torched the New York Knicks for 68 points in the New Orleans Jazz’s win in the Superdome.

“Pistol Pete dropped 68 on us with no 3-point shot, and in an era where you got hit going into the lane and when guys could guide you by handchecking,” Monroe said. “Pete would have been great in any era.

“Just like Steph, who I love to watch play, would have been great in any era.”

You can say the same of Monroe, who recently earned a spot on the NBA’s list of its 75 greatest players. Monroe, a four-time NBA All-Star, the 1968 Rookie of the Year and an NBA champion during his 13-year career, took a trip down memory lane with Andscape from the principal’s office of the Earl Monroe New Renaissance Basketball School, a New York City high school that prepares students for careers that are associated with basketball. Monroe is the founding advisor of the school which was founded by filmmaker Dan Klores (Black Magic, Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story, Basketball: A Love Story).

“You might watch a basketball game and see the players on the court, but you don’t see the hundreds of people who make that all possible,” Monroe said of the school, which was launched in September 2021 in the Bronx with 110 freshmen. “We’re trying to expose our kids to those jobs — from the building manager to the PR people to the broadcasters to the trainers — that they might not necessarily be familiar with.”

The NBA, major financial institutions and sneaker companies have all offered support from the school, which has been visited by NBA great Magic Johnson as well as other former and current players. But it’s the star power generated by Monroe — who’s gone by the nicknames “The Pearl,” “Black Jesus,” “Black Magic” and “Albert Einstein” — that leads to an increased presence of parents and grandparents when word circulates that the former Knicks and Baltimore Bullets guard is making a school appearance.

“The students may not know much about him other than a name,” said Kern Mojica, the school’s principal. “But the parents want to know when Earl is here because they’re starstruck.”

The reason you might find AARP-eligible men fanboy in Monroe’s presence: He was a showman with his spin moves and shot-making skills that led to a magical senior season in college when he averaged 41.5 points while leading Winston-Salem to the 1967 NCAA Division II basketball title.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the greatest scorer in NBA history, once called Monroe the best opponent he ever played against on the playground.

“He had his own cheering section,” Abdul-Jabbar said of the first time he played against Monroe in a Baker League (Philadelphia) vs. Rucker League (New York) all-star game. “He came out and people were talking about ‘Jesus, Jesus.’ He had a handle and he could shoot it, lights out.”

“That’s flattering,” Monroe said of the praise from Abdul-Jabbar. “He’s such a great player and has been one of the people who carried the NBA during the course of his career.”

While Monroe ranks Abdul-Jabbar among the NBA’s best big men, he has Wilt Chamberlain as the greatest.

“Wilt averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds over the course of a season, and still didn’t win the MVP award,” Monroe said of Chamberlain’s 1961-62 season with the Philadelphia Warriors when Bill Russell was named the league’s MVP. “He holds a ton of records. Had he not gone a couple of seasons where he stopped shooting and had he played more than 13 seasons, he would have had over 50,000 career points.”

New York Knicks legend Earl Monroe admires NBA players from the past and present. “Pete [Maravich] would have been great in any era. Just like Steph [Curry], who I love to watch play, would have been great in any era,” Monroe said.

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

While Monroe hesitates to compare eras when the conversation turns to the game’s greatest shooter, he’s quick to answer when describing the greatest shooter he played against.

“Oscar Robertson, and it wasn’t so much of him being just a pure shooter,” Monroe said. “He was just always in a position to get a shot and to make a shot.” 

Does Curry earn space on Monroe’s greatest shooter of all-time list?

“The way the game’s played now he’s very high up there,” Monroe said. “He can shoot, he has a great form and he has a cockiness that’s cocky, but not overly cocky. He understands exactly who he is, and how he’s able to dominate a game.”

And how would Monroe’s teams from the past have defended Curry?

“He’d have to get hurt, baby, a couple of times,” Monroe said, laughing. “Back in my day you took a couple of fouls, and the next time they came down the lane, they’d know what was coming. I used to play against Chicago with Norm Van Lier and Jerry Sloan, and they were the epitome of handchecking. Those were the tricks of guys back in the day, tricks you can’t use anymore.”

Back to that 68-point game Maravich had on Monroe’s 1977 Knicks, at the time the eighth-highest individual scoring game in NBA history. As Monroe announces that Maravich dropped the 68 on “us,” his wife seated to his left, Marita Green, corrects him.

“On you,” Green said. “I remember the game.”

“I remember it, too,” Monroe said, laughing. “My recollection is that he got six points on me, and the rest on Walt Frazier and Butch Beard. Don’t put that all on me.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.