The original Black Jesus
The original Black Jesus when it comes to basketball players is none other than Earl Monroe, one of those old-school players that doesn't get much recognition among the younger generation of NBA fans. However, older players and legends of the game like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar remember perfectly how good some of those players were from the past in a sense; they were multigenerational talents.
Before his famous college and NBA career started, Kareem was already a well-known, young, and talented player who often played in various city leagues during summers. That allowed him to see the other great players out there that he wasn't maybe familiar with before. Remember, Kareem is from New York, so you know the city and the surrounding areas had a lot of talented players who knew how to play the game and, on top of that, did it with style.
In an interview for the Dan Patrick Show, Kareem talks about the summer before he went to UCLA when he first played against a player that already had numerous epithets: 'The Pearl', 'Black Jesus', Einstein, and Black Magic, just to name a few. It was a game between the All-Stars of the Baker League and Rucker League, making the whole thing even more enjoyable.
"I played on the New York team, and this was between my senior year in high school and my first year at UCLA. He was in college at Winston Salem, but he played in the Baker league for the summer, so the Baker League All-Stars played the Rucker All-Stars, and I didn't know who he was."
The Pearl had his own fans
While in college, Monroe was already a celebrity in some ways, having a group of fans following him around yelling Jesus, Jesus. That was the first scene he witnessed when he saw Pearl Monroe, and soon when the game started, he understood why all the hype was about him more than any other young player.
"He had his own cheering section. He came out, and people were talking about Jesus. He was the first black Jesus I know of. So he comes on, and he has a white low cut and a black high top. The game starts, and he is doing all this weird stuff with the ball. He hasn't even crossed half-court and then throws a pass with topspin. It goes three-quarters of the court, hits the ground, and catches someone in stride that catches it and lays it up. And I was like, oh, we are going to have a game today."
It turned out that Kareem would end up having a much more historic and dominant career than Earl Monroe, who he still considers one of the best players he ever saw in live-action. However, Monroe also had a respectable NBA career, establishing himself as a prolific scorer and becoming an NBA champion in 1973 with the New York Knicks.
It's great to hear stories like these, especially from such prominent names as Kareem, because it sheds light on players that are somewhat forgotten in NBA history. Kareem witnessed multiple generations of NBA players, and if he remembers Earl Monroe as a special one among all the other HOF's, that carries a lot of weight.