If you lived in New York, you knew Dwayne ‘Pearl’ Washington. You probably heard of him when he was a high schooler or even younger. He was a basketball legend – one of those playground phenoms who went on to play college ball at Syracuse University and become a legend there, too. He was drafted by the New Jersey Nets in the first round. Washington was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016 and died shortly thereafter. His legacy, however, lives on.
Washington’s early years
Dwayne Washington grew up in the poor neighborhood of Brownsville, a section of Brooklyn, New York. He became a basketball star well before high school, playing pickup games in the playgrounds. When he was just 8 years old playing at the Howard Housing Project in Brownsville, people would compare him to Earl ‘The Pearl’ Monroe, a longtime star for the New York Knicks.
Washington attended Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn where he was a star. Washington was a 6-foot-2 point guard who could score with just about anyone. It was not uncommon for Washington to put up 50 points a night. In his senior year of high school, Washington averaged 35 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists per game.
Washington was rated No. 1 in the country for the high school class of 1983, according to HoopScoop. He was ranked higher than players such as Kenny Smith and Reggie Miller. Washington wound up staying in his home state and player for Syracuse University.
Washington put Syracuse on the map
In his book “Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said getting Dwayne Washington to play for the Orangemen was a game-changer. He landed the nation’s top recruit and that, Boeheim said, gave Syracuse a lot more credibility.
“I can’t underscore how big a moment that was for our program,” Boeheim wrote. “I believe at that point we officially went from being an Eastern program to a national program. Everybody knew who the Pearl was. I’d get off of a plane in L.A. and somebody would say, ‘There’s Pearl’s coach.’ He was the guy who opened the door for us and enabled us to land recruits not just from the East Coast or the Midwest but from the entire country.”
From 1984-1986, Washington was an All-American at Syracuse. During his three seasons in college, he led Syracuse in assists and steals each year. He also averaged 15.7 points per game, including 17.3 in his senior year. Washington was the 13th overall selection in the 1986 NBA draft. He was taken by the New Jersey Nets.
Brain tumor takes the life of Pearl Washington
Pearl Washington didn’t have the success in the NBA as he did throughout his younger days. He wasn’t having any fun. “It wasn’t fun anymore, ” Washington once told Syracuse.com. “I didn’t have the desire to play professional basketball anymore. No. 1, I didn’t play as much as I wanted to. No. 2, a lot of times you get booed, which is not fun. There’s nothing like playing in high school and college. It’s just so much fun.”
Washington was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in August of 2015 and had surgery in the fall of that year. Washington died on April 20, 2016. He was a guy who went about his business, was never in any trouble, loved basketball, and loved life. Pearl Washington may be gone, but his legacy will carry on.
“He was electric, just electric,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told ESPN. “Calvin Murphy maybe was like him. Maybe, but I’m not sure. Pearl was just different. He had a flair, but it wasn’t something he put on. That’s just the way he played.”