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Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Earl Monroe interview, Part 2: Jazz and Basketball

By Jared Zwerling


Richard Pilling/NBAE/Getty ImagesJazz fan Earl Monroe (15) was a maestro on the hardwood.

The movie "Love and Basketball" is well-known in the Monroe household. "That's my daughter's favorite movie growing up, I'll tell you," Earl Monroe says. "Unbelievable."

But if there was a movie made called "Jazz and Basketball," that would easily take the top spot in the family's DVD collection. Not only did Monroe once know legendary jazz musician Miles Davis, he associated jazz music with the way he moved on the basketball court.

In Part 2 of my interview with "The Pearl," we discuss his basketball-jazz correlation -- including funny and memorable stories involving Davis -- his upcoming autobiography and some other surprises.

Tell me about your autobiography you're working on.
My co-writer is a guy by the name of Quincy Troupe, who wrote Miles Davis' autobiography, which is really critically acclaimed. He also wrote "The Pursuit of Happyness," [about homeless man-turned-millionaire Chris Gardner, which was later made into a film]. We don't have a title yet for the autobiography. It's tentatively called "The Pearl," but I'm quite sure we're going to find something more cast in stone before "Pearl" [laughs].

I know in Walt Frazier's book "Rockin' Steady," he wrote about style. Are we going to see some fashion pointers from "The Pearl"?
[laughs]. Nah, just kind of revelations I guess you might call them, and that's about it.

Anything else you're cooking up this year?
I'm also pitching a movie right now on my college life [at Winston-Salem State] called "The Magic of the Rams." It's kind of like "Remember the Titans." As a matter of fact, I'm [already in meetings] with people about that. It's good that things are starting to happen like this here because we've been at it for a long time, and just trying to put it all in order.

When are you looking to release the book and movie?
We're looking at sometime next year. We just started the book. It's not going to be just a basketball book at all. It's going to be for people to get to really know who I am, what I was about and things of that nature -- all the good stuff. Obviously, it'll have some basketball, but at the same time, there was more to life than just basketball.

You mentioned Miles. Weren't you guys friendly at one point?
Yeah, way back when. Miles used to call me a lot, but I could never really understand what he was saying because he [talking in a deep, raspy voice] talks like this here, you know what I mean? I'd always say, "Uh-huh, yeah" [laughs]. Then after, it was about 20 years later, I read the autobiography and I realized he was telling me that he had this orthopedic bed for me. Of course, all I could understand was "bed." And I realized then, when he was calling me, he just had surgery on his hip. And he had an orthopedic bed, and I guess after he got finished with it, he was offering it to me because I had foot surgery. He was calling me to offer me this bed, and I didn't even realize it until I read the autobiography to know that that is what it was. Then I said, "Oh, gosh." Miles was an interesting guy.

Did he ever try and hand-deliver the bed to you?
Nah, I didn't get the bed at all [laughs]. I just kind of suffered through it. In a lot of instances, I was actually with a guy named Kip Branch who was from Baltimore. He co-wrote ["A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African American Athlete: Basketball"] with [tennis pioneer] Arthur Ashe. One day, he said, "I had just called Miles. He said, 'Come on over.'" I said, "All right, I'll roll over with you." So we go ahead. Kip rings the bell and there's no answer, and he rings the bell again. I said, "Well, maybe he stepped out." And he said, "No, he said come on over." So he leaned on the bell a little bit and then all of a sudden there was a voice that came and said [talking in a deep, raspy voice], "Don't you know there ain't nobody home. Get the f--- off the bell" [laughs]. And all I could do is laugh because how he said it. It was just funny. I said [in a soft, library-like voice], "Well, I guess he's busy" [laughs]. Oh, Miles. He was funny.

It's interesting, some of your highlight videos on YouTube are edited with jazz music. And when you watch them, you feel like there's a subdued, jazzy groove to how you played. It's as if you're watching slow-motion razzle dazzle. Nowadays, videos are edited with hip-hop, which correlates to the swagger and outspoken attitude you see from younger players.
[laughs]. Well, it's interesting, I always equated basketball movement with jazz. Especially for me, it was improv and how you did stuff and how you made it happen. Basketball for me has always been a matter of rhythm -- what you do bouncing the ball, how you bounce the ball, how you run, how you receive the ball to be in rhythm. And it's interesting because I haven't been online to see any of those things or what not. We did something back in the '80s -- how we equated dance and basketball. I did a thing on one of these morning shows or what not with Anne Hoffman who was, at that time, [actor] Dustin Hoffman's wife, and she was a ballet dancer. And we just showed her doing her stuff and me doing what I did, the types of moves and what not, and how it correlated with dancing. So I could see how it could be easily translated over into the music.

When you went to jazz shows and saw how the musicians performed, did you ever find yourself moving like they did, but on the court?
Nah, I think just in terms of how guys talk. They talked in a certain kind of staccato and what not that was called hip. Back in the day, it was hip to be cool, and that's what everybody was trying to achieve -- that coolness. So people achieved it in different ways. But being cool was what it was all about -- smooth, cool. When you look at any of those older films of guys playing and what not, you could see that coolness -- that slowness of movement and what not. These guys today have a different type of movement; they equate it with the music that they bump to.

In the locker room before games, would you listen to jazz to get your mind right?
Nah, we didn't have all that kind of stuff [laughs]. Nothing like that. We would sing a song or read a book -- do that kind of stuff. You've got to remember too, when I first came in guys were busting their behind to get to the locker room at halftime just to get a smoke [laughs]. They were like, "What are we going to do in the second half? Give me a Marlboro."

For Part 1 of the Interview, where Earl dishes on the Knicks, click here. Stay tuned for Part 3, where "The Pearl" and I chat about his involvement with The People's Games, an upcoming basketball event that offers amateur players in New York and Los Angeles the chance to battle for city supremacy. Stay tuned.

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