Syracuse basketball legend Pearl Washington passes away
Dwayne "Pearl" Washington, one of college basketball's all-time greatest performers, has passed away, according to his family.
Washington had been diagnosed with a brain tumor during the summer of 2015. He had surgery during the fall but was unable to survive his illness.
This year's Syracuse men's basketball team honored Washington by wearing orange warmup shirts with "Pearl" and "31" inscribed in white.
Following Syracuse's defeat of Georgia Tech on January 29, Coach Boeheim spoke about what Washington's place in the storied history of the program.
"There was no better guy and there's nobody who has meant more to our basketball program than Dwayne Washington," noted Boeheim, who is completing his 40th year as head coach at his alma mater.
Washington's name took up permanent residency in the Syracuse record books during a collegiate career that covered three seasons, from 1983-to-1986. He tallied 1,490 career points, a total that still ranks 25th on the school's list. He led the Orange in scoring as a senior, averaging 17.3 points per outing.
He distributed 199 assists as a freshman, the top rookie mark at Syracuse, and ranks fourth in career assists with 631. He led the team in assists each of his three seasons. His 220 career steals are entrenched in fifth-place on the Orange ledger.
As impressive as Washington's numbers continue to be, the flair with which he played the game remains his most endearing quality. Many college basketball standouts earn legendary status from the public but few lived up to the lofty legend label as well as Pearl.
His crossover dribble, a move he perfected enough to become the standard by which crossovers are still judged, left many a defender on the floor. Washington's spin when taking on an opponent had the opposition grasping air countless times.
Washington was the "human highlight reel" before anyone had come up with that moniker.
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 conference contemporaries Patrick Ewing (Georgetown) and Chris Mullin (St. John's) and others, raised the profile of the league to dizzying heights.
The Orange earned NCAA Tournament invitations in each of Washington's seasons on the Hill. One of his many show-stopping plays came in his rookie season in a matchup with Boston College in the Dome. The Eagles had tied the game at 73-73 and had a free throw to go ahead with four seconds remaining. With a raucous crowd of 30,293 on hand, BC missed the free throw, Sean Kerins got the ball to Pearl and he launched a shot from the center jump circle. Upon the ball's release, Washington raised his arms and headed directly to the team tunnel, before the shot reached its destination. It went in, Syracuse won 75-73 and fans filled the court with Washington already in the locker room.
The Orange reached the semifinals of the Big East Tournament before losing to Georgetown, 82-71 in overtime. Washington was named the Conference's Freshman of the Year and first-team All-Big East. Syracuse defeated Virginia Commonwealth in the NCAA First Round but lost to Virginia in the next game to end up 23-9.
Syracuse was ranked as high as sixth during the 1984-85 campaign. The Orange upset then-number one Georgetown during the regular season, 65-63, but the Hoyas returned the favor twice – winning in Washington D.C. to close the regular season and then knocking Syracuse from the Big East Tournament again. Washington's last contest against Ewing was marred by the 6-2 Pearl getting in an altercation with the 7-0 future NBA number one pick. Washington had 23 points, including a 15-of-16 effort from the foul line, to help Syracuse beat DePaul in the NCAA tournament, 70-65, but Mark Price's Georgia Tech squad captured the next encounter.
Coach Boeheim's group started Washington's final year ranked fourth, a spot it held into January thanks to 13 straight wins to begin the season. The Orange shared the Big East title with a 14-2 record and reached the conference tournament final by defeating Georgetown in the semifinals, 75-73 in overtime, with Washington contributing 21 points and 11 assists. He had 20 points and 14 assists in the title game with St. John's but the fifth-ranked Redmen won, 70-69. Despite his team's runner-up finish, Washington was named the tournament MVP, and he was first-team All-Big East for the second straight year.
For the first time in school history, Syracuse hosted NCAA tournament games. The Orange disposed of Brown, 101-52, behind Washington's 21 points. He posted a brilliant, 28-point, 8-assist effort in the next round but the Orange were done in by David Robinson's 35 points and Navy, 97-85.
Washington earned honorable mention All-America from the Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), and Sporting News as a first-year player, and followed with consensus All-America honors as a sophomore. He narrowly missed repeating consensus recognition as a junior, receiving second-team UPI and third-team AP and National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) laurels.
After foregoing his final collegiate year of eligibility to enter the NBA Draft, Washington was the 13th overall selection by the New Jersey Nets. He averaged 8.6 points and 4.1 assists in his rookie season and 9.3 points the next year. He was taken by Miami in the 1988 Expansion Draft and spent one season with the Heat before he was released. Washington played two years in the Continental Basketball Association before retiring.
Washington also had a severe health scare in 1996 when doctors found a brain tumor, which was removed, and Washington recovered.
His departure from Syracuse didn't signal an end to the tributes Washington was bestowed in the Dome. On March 2, 1996, Washington's jersey was retired in a ceremony at the Carrier Dome. He was the third Orange player to receive the honor, following Dave Bing and Vic Hanson into the Dome's rafters. When the school's All-Century Team was selected, by fan vote, in 1999-2000, Washington was one of 25 players picked.
He later returned to the university to complete his class requirements and received a bachelor's degree in Speech Communication. He was working toward his master's degree in the Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation program in the College of Education when he fell ill.
A frequent visitor to the Carrier Dome for Syracuse games, Washington remained a beloved figure to Orange fans. His final Dome appearance came on December 19, 2015, when he was on hand to watch Syracuse defeat Cornell.