We knew it was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Pearl Washington has passed away at just 52 years old. But instead of lamenting the shame of losing him so soon, or the gut-wrenching illness that took him late, why not remember the good times? Because Pearl lived, in some ways, one of the most important Syracuse lives of them all.
Pearl was NYC. Playground tough, he never backed down from a challenge or rival. He was perfect for that rough n’ tumble era of SU hoops. He helped jump start the Big Apple pipeline through the ’80s.
Pearl had a flair for the dramatic. His buzzer beater to ice Boston College could be the most iconic image of Orange hoops outside of the national championship.
Pearl was a pioneer. He came to the Hill because Syracuse had this giant, funky, air-inflated Dome and he wanted to play inside of it. He started the parade of McDonald’s All-Americans through the program.
Pearl was magnetic. Simultaneously moving into the cavernous Dome and having a must-see persona on campus, there were now thousands more seats to come watch him. Pearl made SU basketball an event.
Pearl was a winner. He joined a program that was still finding its footing in the early years of Boeheim’s tenure. SU was unranked his freshman year. After his half-court miracle vs. the Eagles, SU was ranked for the rest of his playing days. Syracuse became a beast of the Big East, and had the draw to recruit Rony Seikaly, Derrick Coleman, and Sherman Douglas – all the pieces that created the Final Four run a year after Pearl left.
Pearl was an ambassador. While his NBA career flamed out before it started, Pearl was always seen on campus, at the Dome, or when SU played in the Big East Tournament or the Big Dance. He called Syracuse games as an analyst. He was loved by Boeheim and the fans. He loved the embrace. He was a walking icon.
Pearl was happy. He had no regrets about a pro career that vanished, not from drug use like some thought, but simply because his heart wasn’t in it. Rarely do you find people at peace with the doors that closed in their lives.
Pearl is gone, but he’ll never really be gone. Because what Pearl did for Syracuse lives every day.
Posted: Damon Amendolara