“They got Ku Klux Klan everywhere around here..”

“They got Ku Klux Klan everywhere around here..”

Earl ”The Pearl” Monroe was the second pick of the draft in 1967 by the Baltimore Bullets (which later became the Washington Bullets which later renamed to the Washington Wizards). Monroe was famous for bringing the playground to the pro game. His signature spin move and flashy passes were a new thing in the game at the time. He loved to improvise on the court, as he once said: “The thing is, I don’t know what I’m going to do with the ball, and if I don’t know, I’m quite sure the guy guarding me doesn’t know either.” Monroe and teammate Wes Unseld formed a formidable duo and led a competitive team.

His contract renewal stalled so he instructed his agent to explore trade possibilities to the Lakers, Bulls or Sixers. As that plan did not develop, his agent mentioned that Indiana Pacers, then in the ABA, expressed interest. Monroe was reluctant at first but agreed to give them a shot and visit Indianapolis. Here is Monroe describing it in his book, published at Deadspin:

So I agreed to do that and the next day I flew out to Indianapolis. Bobby “Slick” Leonard, who was the coach out there, met me at the airport, took me to the hotel, and dropped me off. Then someone from the team came back a while later and picked me up and took me to the game. The Pacers had some very good players on their team, like George McGinnis, Roger Brown, Freddie Lewis, and a few others. So I surmised that this was a team I could play on. The only negative thing about the situation was that I didn’t want to play in the ABA, because I thought the competition was better in the NBA. But I thought to myself, If push comes to shove I can do this. But I don’t think it’s going to happen. The most significant thing was that I didn’t like the arena where the Pacers played their games in Indianapolis. It wasn’t like the Baltimore Civic Center or Madison Square Garden. But I did like the team and the fact that they were a winning franchise. So I went to the game and the Pacers won. Then, after the game, I went back to meet the Pacers’ players in the locker room. I liked them, too. But then, after they had showered and dressed, all the black players reached up over their lockers and starting bringing guns down. I was shocked to see this and asked, “Why do you guys have guns?”

“They got Ku Klux Klan everywhere around here outside Indianapolis and in the city, too,” one of the players said. “So we got guns to protect ourselves.”

That did it, just took me and that situation to another level. That’s when I knew for certain that Indianapolis wasn’t the place for me. Obviously, I hadn’t thought about the KKK being such a presence out in Indianapolis, and now that I knew they were, it was a deal breaker. I had already been through that scenario down in Virginia and in North Carolina when I was at Winston-Salem, and I wasn’t about to put myself in that situation again. The next day I thanked everybody. Slick said management was trying to work out a deal with Larry because they wanted to sign me, and I said I would speak to Larry and he would get back to them. Then they took me to the airport and I flew back to Philadelphia and went home.

Monroe would eventually end up in the Knicks. Nervous about his abilities to perform in the Knicks and about joining his team’s bitter rival he had a long drive to NYC. “..and as I approached New York City I suddenly pulled off the turnpike at the Jersey City exit and rode around there for quite a long time. After a while, I calmed down and convinced myself that I had made the right decision.” His first experience of New York was interesting at least: “There was a police car sitting on the corner with two policemen in the front seat. I just happened to look toward the backseat of the police car, and saw a pair of legs sticking straight up in the air. I was kind of puzzled but I played it off as if I didn’t see anything at all (later I was told that the area was where the hookers worked). I just drove on and said to myself, I think I’m gonna like it here. Earl, welcome to New York.”