The original Big East Conference was established on May 31, 1979. I was 11 years-old at the time, and to borrow a quote from the motion picture Jerry Maguire, “they had me (and my father) at hello.”
The late Dave Gavitt cobbled together seven schools (Boston College, Connecticut, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. Johns, and Syracuse). Villanova joined a year later, and they would put the rest of college basketball on notice. Initially, the new league was known for some larger-than-life coaches like John Thompson, Lou Carnesecca, and a young Jim Boeheim. Make no mistake, though, this conference became a behemoth because of the amazing players it introduced the country to: Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Ed Pinckney, Walter Berry, and Dwayne Washington, just to name a few. Unfortunately, word came Wednesday morning that the “Pearl” had passed away at the age of 52.
How lucky were dad and I that Seton Hall was in the Big East? The Pirates played their home games on campus (Walsh Gymnasium) in those days, and we lived 15 minutes away. So, guess who made it a habit to arrive at Walsh two hours prior to tip-off to carve out space in the first row directly across from the visiting team’s bench? Yup, the McAleavey boys! We were not autograph seekers; but dad was a world-class talker, and so he would strike up conversations with anyone who would oblige him–Ewing, Michael Adams, Mark Jackson, and of course, the Pearl. I remember Pearl was not much for the pre-game conversation, instead, he chose to do his talking on the floor at game time. He was a treat to watch because he was so strong and crafty with the ball. Teams would play off him, daring him to shoot from the outside, which was not his forte. Yet, because he was so talented with the ball in his hands, he was always in the lane to score himself or set teammates up for thundering dunks. His signature moment, of course, was the 1984 half-court, buzzer beating, game-winning shot over the Boston College Eagles at the Carrier Dome. What was so cool about that shot was that when he let it go, he never stopped running. By the time the ball went through the net, he was in a full sprint right around the free throw line; and as bedlam broke out, he simply continued running up the tunnel towards his locker room. It was truly a remarkable shot, an iconic moment not only for Syracuse, but for the conference in general. Washington had an amazing collegiate career; but unfortunately, he could not re-create that success in the NBA. Sadly, he was diagnosed with brain cancer for the first time in 1995. Although in remission for several years, he underwent surgery again last fall when another brain tumor was discovered. The Orange program, in a show of support for his battle, paid tribute to him in March’s NCAA tournament by wearing T-shirts adorned with the word Pearl.
RIP Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, you were a wonderful player to watch and a great link back to amazing games and cherished times spent with my best buddy!
And that is My 2 Sense for this week.