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Saturday 10 December 2022
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Pearl Washington, Syracuse Basketball Legend Dies of Cancer at Age 52

Syracuse University basketball legend Dwayne “Pearl” Washington died on Wednesday at the age of 52. Last summer, Washington was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had since been undergoing various treatments in an attempt to shrink the tumor. According to his sister, Janie Washington, he had survived a previous bout with cancer two decades prior.

Washington was a point guard from Syracuse University from 1983 to 1986, but even before his time at Syracuse, he achieved legend status on the playgrounds of Brooklyn neighborhoods Brownsville and East New York. Among the 36 million kids who play organized sports each year, Pearl stood out for his charisma and finesse on the court. At Boys and Girls High School, he was nearly unstoppable, averaging at 35 points, 10 rebounds, eight steals and four assists his senior year — ultimately becoming the most highly recruited player in the country.

In his three years at SU, Washington left as the university’s all-time leader in assist and to this day ranks third of all-time. During his junior year, Washington led Syracuse in scoring at an average of 17.3 points per game.

But Washington’s legend isn’t just about what he did on the court — it was how he did it. In fact, Washington was notorious for his style, that he undoubtedly developed on the playgrounds of New York City.

During his freshman year, he stunned the crowd in a game against No. 16 Boston college, when he performed a buzzer-beating half court shot that, for many, is one of the most memorable moments in Syracuse basketball history.

That moment changed Syracuse’s fate, as it helped them to enter the top 20 the week after Pearl’s half-court shot. For the duration of his SU career, the Orangemen held a place in the top 20.

Only one year after the half-court miracle, he stunned the world yet-again when he knocked down a 15-foot jumper to beat the No. 2 ranking team, Georgetown, on ESPN’s Big Monday.

“Georgetown. Big Monday. ESPN. Of course, Pearl wins it,” former SU teammate Rafael Addison said. “He had a flair for the dramatic.”

And Washington’s legacy at Syracuse came at a critical time in the basketball program’s history. As a high school legend, the player announced his college decision in an interview on the national telecast of McDonald’s All-American game. Syracuse had just moved into the Carrier Dome at the start of the 1980-81 season, and Washington chose SU because he wanted to play in the new space.

“It really was amazing to come up here and see a place that big,” Washington said. “I wanted to play on that stage.”

At the same time, Syracuse had joined the Big East Conference, and Washington’s performance put SU on the map.

“Everybody says that Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin made the Big East, but I think Pearl made the league,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim once said. “They were the best players, but Pearl was the player that people turned out to see and turned on their TVs to watch.”
After Syracuse, Washington was selected as the 13th overall pick by the New Jersey Nets in the 1986 NBA Draft. After the Nets, Pearl joined the Miami Heat. Overall, his NBA career only lasted a short three years.

But, despite his brevity in the NBA, his status in Syracuse lives on in legendary proportions.

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