Former Syracuse star Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, who sparkled as an unstoppable point guard playing on the New York City high school and national college basketball stages for much of the 1980s, died Wednesday, Syracuse University Athletics announced on its web site. He was 52.
According to Syracuse University Athletics, Washington was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the summer of 2015 and had surgery in the fall.
Washington, whose nickname became his first name, was the top recruit in the country coming out of Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn in 1983 and went on to excel for three seasons at Syracuse, helping to build the Big East Conference into one of the best in the nation.
“Pearl was one of the most exciting guards ever to play college basketball,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told Newsday in 1998 during the Big East’s 20th anniversary season preseason news conference. “Not the best, but the most exciting. One of a kind.”
Syracuse’s men’s basketball team wore warmup shirts honoring Washington with “Pearl” and “31” this past season.
Washington averaged 15.6 points and 6.7 assists per game in three seasons for the Orange and led them to a 71-24 record. He was a first-team All-Big East selection three times, a first-team All-American as a junior and a No. 1 draft choice by the New Jersey Nets in 1986. He had a brief, modest NBA career, averaging just 8.6 points in three seasons for the Nets and Miami Heat.
At Syracuse, Pearl had a flair for the dramatic. As a freshman, on Jan. 21, 1984, he burnished his status as a true Syracuse legend by hitting a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to beat Boston College, 75-72, before a crowd of 30,293 at the Carrier Dome.
Long-range shooting, however, was not his forte. He was a shake-and-bake point guard who at 6-2 and 190 pounds, was exceptionally strong going to the basket. Like the player for whom he was jokingly nicknamed as an 8-year-old on the playgrounds of his hometown in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Earl “the Pearl” Monroe, Washington was a man of many flashy moves.
He was a crowd pleaser with his slick, no-look passes and loved playing before packed houses, especially at Madison Square Garden where Pearl had many electric moments during games against St. John’s or in the Big East Tournament. “It’s always good to be at the Garden. It’s home,” Washington told Newsday in 1999 when he returned to the Garden for Big East Tournament in March as part of the 20th anniversary celebration. “It’s your fans. To me, it’s like Showtime,”
At Syracuse, where he regularly helped draw record-breaking crowds to the Carrier Dome, fans often wore T-shirts that read “ … and on the eighth day, God created Pearl.”
Dwayne Alonzo Washington was born January 6, 1964 in Brooklyn, where he grew up and became a playground hoops legend. When he signed with Syracuse in 1983, it gave the Big East Conference the nation’s No. 1 recruit two years in a row. Patrick Ewing selected Georgetown in 1982.
Washington, along with Ewing, Chris Mullin (St. John’s), Derrick Coleman (Syracuse) and Ray Allen (Connecticut) was named to the Big East Conference 25th anniversary first team in 2004, and to Syracuse’s All-Century team in 2000. The Orange retired his uniform number 31. In 2005, Washington was inducted in the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame.
After his NBA career ended, Pearl bounced around in the CBA for two years playing for teams in Rapid City and San Jose before becoming involved with youth basketball in Houston, Boston, Brooklyn and Syracuse. He also did some color commentary for Syracuse University men’s and women’s basketball telecasts and briefly coached girls varsity basketball in New York City.
According to Syracuse University Athletics, Washington suffered a brain tumor in 1996. The tumor was removed and Washington recovered.