It was sad hearing that one of my favorite Syracuse University basketball players of all time, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, had passed away from a brain tumor. I remembered that he’d had another one back in 1996, and I knew it had come back again, yet one always felt that Pearl could overcome anything he wanted to.

DAPW01It made me reflect back on the one time I met him. I was consulting out of town in, of all places, New Jersey, the team that drafted Pearl in the 1st round in 1986 after 3 fabulous years playing for the team we then called the Orangemen. My car had been broken into at the hotel I was staying at, and both doors had been damaged, with the only things taken being some change I had sitting in the coin holder and my $15 CD player.

The damage was extensive enough that I had to bring my car into the Sam Dell Dodge dealership which was still around in 2004, and I had to leave it there for a week while they took the time to work on it. They gave me a loaner for the week, which was a good thing, and said to come back the following Friday to pick my car up.

Thus, I found myself back at Sam Dell the following week, turning in my car and heading into the back to see what was going on with my car. When I got to the garage, I see Pearl over in a corner washing a motorcycle. It took a few seconds for my mind to compress this – Pearl Washington and a motorcycle? I smiled at the thought and I figured I’d take my shot to go and meet him.

I walked over to meet him, and he looked up and smiled, as if he was used to people doing that. I’m not a shy guy but I’m also not a gushing type. I didn’t even say his name. Instead I remember saying “I just had to come over and shake your hand for all the thrills you gave me in the years you played for Syracuse.”

Pearl thanked me for that and shook my hand. Then I continued.

“I was at the Boston College game, ten rows up behind the backboard when you hit that half court shot. I jumped up with everyone else, screaming and hugging everybody around me, only knowing one person, as if we’d just won the NCAA championship. After about a minute I stopped, looked around and thought to myself ‘Hey, I’m surrounded by dudes!’ Not a woman in sight!”

Pearl laughed at that; I’m sure I told the story better than it reads here. I’d always heard how nice and gracious he was and in that instance he made me feel like the best storyteller in the world… and I bet it was the most unique perspective of that night that he’d ever heard from anyone else; at least I hoped so.

RIP Pearl Washington; you gave me so much joy during a rough period of my life. I’m glad I was around to see moves like the one in the video below: