As I write this, my 15-year-old nephew Jordan is sitting on the couch, a few feet away.
He lives in New York, but has been visiting us out here in California for his week of Spring Break. Tomorrow morning I’ll be driving him to the airport—and I’m truly heartbroken.
The wife and I have long referred to Jordan as our “first born,” and it’s largely without irony. Though he is, technically, the son of my sister in law and former brother in law (they’re divorced), I’ve always taken my role as uncle (or, technically, funcle) very seriously. I have two fantastic nephews, and time with them is no different than time with my own kids.
During his week here, Jordan and I have probably played, oh, 20 games of NHL ’15 on the XBox (don’t wanna brag, but I just took the California championship with a 3-2 overtime win). The wife and I took him to a San Diego Padres game, to poke (awesome seafood), to a place with killer milkshakes, to a tour of UCLA, to a hike, to a stroll along the beach. You’d think, when someone stays with you for a week, it turns burden. But Jordan is no burden—he’s like my nephew, and my pal. Which is a first for me, and genuinely delightful.
It’s sorta weird, when I think about it. In life, you come to know 99 percent of people when they’ve already reached certain stages. You meet friends in elementary school, at a playground, in high school, at college, on the job, in a gym. On and on. Jordan is the first person I’ve actually watched grow from birth until near adulthood. I used to babysit him when, as an infant, he’d cry and cry. Every Halloween I’d take him to a different haunted house. He’d sleep at our place, help make breakfast, film movies with the old flip camera. He and his brother and my kids are as much siblings as cousins. I take immense pride and satisfaction in their accomplishments; in their happiness. When they’re good, I’m good, too.
Anyhow, I’m babbling. The kid’s leaving tomorrow, and it’s a big bummer.
Thank you all for coming here today to my website, for what I consider a particularly important moment in the history of this great nation.
Now, as you all know, we are in the midst of an historic—and somewhat scary—presidential election. Donald Trump, a man who has no business doing anything; a liberal in conservative clothing, is heading toward a nomination we can’t allow him to achieve. Ted Cruz, the candidate with the second-most delegates, is a demagogue who will set this country back centuries. John Kasich, well, yeah.
Anyhow, after much deliberation and contemplation, I stand before you today to announce that my running mate for the presidency is …
Mr. Emmanuel Lewis.
Thank you. Thank you. Mr. Lewis is a man of great distinction. He played Webster. He starred in Burger King commercials. He was friendly with Vince Neil on the Surreal Life. He lost all his money, but then made some of it back. I think. Emmanuel Lewis represents the best in American values. He once held Michael Jackson’s hands. He’s been derisively called “Webster” 17 million times without cracking. He will make a tremendous vice president, and he will restore dignity and grace to the executive branch of our government.
So, after two years of highs and lows, angst and anger, accomplishment and agony, in two days I’ll presenting my final project at the University of South Florida. If all goes well, I walk off into the abyss with my master’s degree.
I’ve devoted much of the past few months to a documentary, which I’ve titled, “Book Whore.” It concerns everything authors go through in the name of promoting and, hopefully, selling product. Without counting, I probably interviewed about 40 people. I roamed bookstores, stalked out fellow authors, darted up and down the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. It was a unique exercise in self analysis and discovery; one I consider to be very worthy.
Now, is a master’s degree worthy? I think that is yet to be determined. I’ve learned a good amount about technology. My attitude has often sucked. I’ve felt overwhelmed and, at times, overqualified. Then, moments later, dumb and uninformed. It’s a whirlwind. The goal, ultimately, is to land a full-time teaching gig at a college or university. In journalism, those are hard to find sans PhD, impossible to find without a master’s. Even if, like me or a million other journalists, we’ve been in the business for decades. I’ve adjuncted at three colleges; I’ve written six (almost seven) books; I’ve been at magazines and newspapers. But without that degree … well, yeah.
I digress. This project is a labor of love, and I’ll release it here, on jeffpearlman.com, in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I offer the above trailer, featuring a bunch of really delightful people and the music of my creative soul brother, MC White Owl.
Hope you dig it.
PS: The trailer features, among others, my daughter Casey, the actor Matthew Laurance, ESPN Richmond radio supernova Greg Burton and my soon-to-be brother-in-law, Chris Berman. Fun shit.
In case you missed this, ESPN announced that Skip Bayless will soon be leaving the network. My guess is he’ll wind up yelling at Jason Whitlock or someone else on Fox Sports. But, really, that’s just an educated presumption.
In case you couldn’t guess that one, I hate what Skip Bayless brings to media. Long ago he was the guy who outed Troy Aikman for being gay—even though he’s not gay. Then, after a long career as a look-at-me columnist, Skip joined ESPN and made irrational screaming an art form. I suspect Skip believes about 17 percent of things he says, which puts him in Donald Trump-Ted Cruz-Bill Clinton company.
But wait. I digress. Instead of ripping Skip, I want to compliment Skip. For all the flaws, for all the nonsense, Skip Bayless has managed to do something that’s, truly, pretty impressive. Namely, in a disposable medium that dumps personalities as quickly as they arrived. he’s survived. People his age don’t last on TV. They just don’t. Someone cheaper, younger, hipper eternally waits around the corner.
Somehow, though, Skip remains, as relevant and popular as ever.
So, no, I don’t like his routine. But I admire the longevity.
So a bunch of months ago, after I stupidly Tweeted that a bunch of female Fox News hosts dressed like hookers, Tomi Lahren ripped me to a shred.
She did so on one of her episodes of “Tomi” on TheBlaze, and it was fierce, merciless and pretty fucking impressive. That’s how Lahren operates: She picks a viewpoint, she zooms in on it and—BAM!—she picks it apart, piece by piece by piece. Do I agree with her takes? Quite literally, never. I mean, seriously, never, ever, ever, ever. But her largely conservative audience seems to love her, and with good reason. If communicating to the masses is a skill, Lahren has a PhD.
Tomi Lahren, I hope your chosen candidates get demolished come November. But I also welcome you to The Land of Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Tomi, I’m thrilled to have you here. Truly thrilled. And I want to start with why we came together: A while back I posted a r-e-a-l-l-y stupid Tweet criticizing some of the women on Fox News for dressing like hookers. It was a shit Tweet—and I’m genuinely furious with myself because A. It was hurtful and wrongheaded; B. Because it misrepresented how I feel. And here is, clearly, how I feel: Women and men are judged by completely different standards in televised media. Obviously there are exceptions, but there’s a ton of more pressure for women to look appealing, dress somewhat sexily, be young. Meanwhile, men can be Chris Berman, Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity, Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless—and, with age, they’re simple deemed “experienced” and “having gravitas.” The double standard drives me insane, and I don’t think it has anything to do with left or right—it’s just men generally running a business. So … does this make me a dick? Do you disagree? Agree? And do you, as a woman in media, feel any of this?
TOMI LAHREN: Agree to a point. I am tired of being told I am a victim. There is a double-standard. Sometimes it works to my advantage, sometimes it doesn’t. My looks might help me snag a few views on my show. If my appearance draws them in and gets them to listen to my message (I write every single word) then so be it. Television is a visual medium, that’s the way it is. Yes it is more difficult for women when the country seems to favor “young and pretty” over “old and experienced” but there are notable exceptions. Here are a few: Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Oprah, and Greta Van Susteren. I’ve been in TV and guess what—women run it. The largest shareholders may be old, white men but the producers, bookers, and talent recruiters are often women. I don’t want to be the woman that complains my ovaries hold me back. I want to be the woman that says, yeah there is an unfair standard and beating it everyday makes me more of a badass than my male counterparts.
J.P.:One more on the Tweet: So I wrote it. And I’m pretty much a nobody. Yeah, I have a blue check on Twitter. But I’m a guy who writes sports books. That’s it. And yet—the Tweet goes out and—whooooooosh! You’re a [fill in the insults]. Over and over and over. Tomi, I’m not asking as a left-right thing so much as a social media thing: How do you explain this? Like, why do people even care? And the intense anger? Is it real? Is it ever real? Or is it just who social media sorta makes us?
T.L.: Social media is a powerful tool. I know, I found “viral fame” on Facebook and YouTube. Here’s the thing: folks are tired of having so much to say and no place to say it. Twitter gives them the instant gratification of putting the “asshole” in his place. Also, the right-of-center folks are tired of liberals bashing their conservative outlets, especially Fox News. They have some kind of duty to protect their conservative warriors. I have my share of haters but more than that, my loving followers. It’s a blessing and a curse. I had a horrible day at work today, I Instagramed it and my followers made me feel better. That’s something.
J.P.:You’re 23, you’re from Rapid City, you attended UNLV, you interned for Kristi Noem. But … how did this happen for you, soup to nuts? Was there a moment you thought, “Media!”? A moment you thought, “Conservative!”? In short, what’s your life path from womb to here?
T.L.: I like to talk. I’m pretty good at it. I also love politics. I studied journalism and political science at UNLV. No, not all Las Vegans are strippers. Long story short, I was looking for an internship out of college. My first choice and now employer, The Blaze, turned me down. Oh well. I called up a new “conservative alternative” network, One America News. They didn’t give me an internship. They gave me a show. I built it from the ground up, and “On Point with Tomi Lahren” was born. I worked at OAN for just over a year when it happened. I went viral with my “Red White & Blue Unfiltered Final Thoughts” after the Chattanooga terrorist attack. Then my inbox exploded and my phone blew up. Now here I am, trying to get a show off the ground at The Blaze in Dallas. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again.
J.P.:I have a complaint about people like you. And Hannity. And Sharpton. And Matthews. And most political pundits. And it’s this: You hold the party you disagree with to ridiculous standards. Or, lemme say it this way: If, say, Paul Ryan had a Benghazi-type thing on his resume, you’d defend him, or at least not go after him the way you go after Hillary. If a sitting Republican president presided over 9.3 million new jobs (and I know you can debate the figure, but that’s not really the point of the question), you and yours would be raving about the economy and GOP policy. The Dixie Chicks speaking out against George W. Bush was treason, but Republicans questioning Barack Obama’s patriotism is fine and dandy. This is NOT about the content of your leanings, Tomi, but that it just seems you and others hold standards to one political viewpoint that you don’t to the other. Tell me why I’m wrong. Or right. Or both.
T.L.: You’re right. It’s called politics. I will say this; Republicans hold each other far more accountable than the Democrats do within their party. Ever heard of a RINO? There is no such thing as “DINO” because the Democrats rarely go after one another. For the record, I don’t dislike President Obama because he’s a Democrat. I dislike him for the way he’s treated our country. He is not the commander-in-chief I trust to lead my loved ones into battle. I don’t dislike Hillary because she’s a Democrat; I dislike Hillary because she’s a liar. I can respectfully disagree with many Democrats. I do it on my show all the time. I truly believe in the honest dialogue. I don’t talk over my guests, cut their mics, or try to make them look stupid. That’s not my game. I believe the better point will prevail. Watch my show, you’ll see.
J.P.:Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
T.L.: The greatest moment of my career was my “viral final thoughts.” Not because of the fame or attention, because I meant every word and it’s nice to know it resonated. The lowest point was when I left One America. I don’t regret my decision but it was hard to walk away from the show I built. It felt like abandoning a child.
J.P.:There’s a phrase I see on Twitter all the time, and it drives me c-r-a-z-y: Libtard. Here’s why: I’m OK with “stupid liberal,” “damn liberal,” “asshole liberal”—seriously, whatever. But Libtard—the merging or liberal and retarded—just seems to cross a pretty nasty line. Thoughts?
T.L.: I don’t like it either and don’t use it. It’s an insult to those with mental handicaps. It makes me laugh but I don’t think it’s appropriate. Yet, Twitter will be Twitter. I much prefer the hash tags I created, #QueenHillary #BO #Obummer and #CuddleTerrorists.
J.P.: I’m fascinated: How do you think the presidential election winds up? I know you want a Republican to win. Totally get it. But who will win? How will it go? [JEFF NOTE: I asked this one before Rubio suspended his campaign]
T.L.: I hope it’s a Hillary-Rubio showdown. Marco Rubio is my candidate because he can win. Enough said. For so long the GOP has been the party of old, rich white men. Well, correct me if I’m wrong but Hillary meets three out of four. As I said in my controversial CPAC speech last year, “If the pantsuit fits, male too?” I don’t understand how the American voter could elect Hillary Clinton in confidence. She may be indicted for goodness sakes! Yet, this is the same electorate that voted for Obama a second time. The reason is low-informed voters. I say it all the time, I ‘d rather our voters be passionately liberal than ignorantly neutral. Don’t vote for Hillary because she’s a woman (barely). That’s not good enough.
J.P.:So you’re clearly intelligent, informed, etc. I just don’t get why conservatives are so skeptical of climate change. I’ve heard the silly stuff (“Well, first you called in global warming—and now this?”) and the Al Gore jokes (can’t argue—he’s become ridiculous). But the science is, at this point, really strong. Doesn’t it make sense to take all the precautions we can—if nothing else, on the side of safety? Also, as a Christian, don’t you think it’s simply right to keep God’s creation as clean as possible?
T.L.: Here’s the deal Jeff—it’s possible to be a common sense conservationist without blaming the coming apocalypse on SUVs and coal. We need to protect the earth but to say humans are the major cause of “climate change” is not scientifically agreed upon. I believe in innovation and energy alternatives. However, I also believe in jobs. Fracking is God’s gift to American energy independence. Let’s find a way to innovate our extraction process, not blame fossil fuels for every drought or rain cloud. I also don’t trust the EPA to do it. They are in the business of grant dollars and regulating puddles.
J.P.:During one of the GOP debates you Tweeted, “The Second Amendment is not a suggestion! Thank you @marcorubio.” I know where you stand on guns, but I also wanna know what you think we should do about all the gun violence. Do you genuinely believe more armed people=a safer society? Because, statistically at least, more guns in homes=more dead people in homes. Should there be any restrictions? None?
T.L.: Jeff, when radical Islamic terrorists start abiding by our guns laws then we can talk. Until then, this is garbage. Do you really think some maniac (Christian or Muslim or whatever) is going to be stopped by an inability to buy a gun? I believe in the gun laws we already have. They should be enforced. It just so happens that the FBI often fails. That’s what bureaucracy does. I didn’t own a gun before the San Bernardino attack. I do now. The reality is, wackos and jihadists will find a way. When they do, I’ll be armed. Further restrictions only neuter law-abiding citizens.
T.L.: I get it. Americans are angry. Many feel ignored. Many feel they can’t even speak any longer without being labeled a racist, bigot, homophobe or sexist. Donald Trump says the things many frustrated Americans want to hear. We have a president who seems more concerned with Muslim sensitivity than name, rooting out and eliminating the problem of radical Islamic terror. He won’t even say it. We also have many Americans who are tired of illegal immigrants taking advantage of our pitiful border enforcement. Isn’t it time Americans are owed more in this country than illegal immigrants? Countries cannot survive without borders. I ask this: Do you lock your doors because you hate people outside? No. You lock your doors because you love the people inside and want to protect them. That’s why we have borders. Most Republicans feel this way. Donald Trump says it and says it louder.
• Five all-time favorite Democratic political figures: Really, Jeff? LOL! I actually had to Google this because none came to mind. 1) Jim Webb—he’s not actually a Democrat in my opinion; 2) Bill Clinton (when he was moderate); 3) JFK (because he asked people what they could do for the country, not what it could do for them); 4) Howard Dean (because he makes me laugh); 5) Bernie Sanders (because he has no shot at winning but his heart is in the right place)
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes, actually. The day after Christmas my plane from South Dakota back to Dallas was diverted to the lovely town of San Angelo, Texas due to tornadoes. We got off the plane, got back on, flew in a holding pattern. I don’t think we should have been flying. I saw lighting bolts out the window. I did meet some great people on that plane. We ordered pizza at the airport. Not a bad night. At least there was food. Oh, and I’m alive.
• Being serious—Obama calls. He says, “I know we disagree, but I’d love to invite you to the White House for tea with me and Michelle.” A. Do you go? B. Are you cool? C. Could you have fun hanging with a prez you so strongly disagree with?: I would go in a heartbeat. Here’s why, the office of the president is honorable regardless of the name or party ID. Also, I would ask the tough questions. I would be polite but firm. I don’t think someone like me has ever questioned him. I can have a fun conversation with anyone, even BO. Maybe Michelle can unveil what’s so great about turnips—again.
• One question you would ask Scott Stapp were he here right now?: When’s the band getting back together? Awkwardly—because I barely know who he is. I’m 23, remember?
• Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Reince Priebus both make me want to punch a wall. How do you explain their status as party leaders?: Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the most polarizing, shrill woman I’ve heard after Queen Hillary Clinton. Reince Priebus might not be perfect but at least he recognizes the problems in the GOP. Schultz just rags on about how racist and sexist she thinks we are. All talk. No substance. She’s got a tough job though. How’d you like to defend the socialist and the liar? Ouch.
• Three memories from your senior prom: 1) My boyfriend was a jerk but he was a jerk for six years, what can I say? Live and learn; 2) It snowed. Yes, in April. Welcome to South Dakota; 3) My boyfriend’s parents actually asked me to step aside so they could photograph him, alone. Real winners.
• How many days in a row can I wear the sleep pants my mother in law bought me for Chanukah before it gets sorta gross?: That would be a two-day maximum on that. Please tell me you don’t wear sleep pants in public. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves. If I have to put on real pants, so do you, bud.
• Explain your name, please: Yes, Tomi, like the boy’s name. No my parents didn’t want a boy. They like unique names. I used to hate it. In fact, I used to tell people it was “Tami” when I was little. Now, I love it. It might be a boy’s name but you’ll never forget it. Drawback, when I go to grab my cup at Starbucks the whole place looks at me like I’ve stolen some dude’s drink. Ugh.
Had a Twitter debate today with a conservative guy who believes a raped woman needs to deliver the rapist’s baby. Why? Because abortion is murder, and murder is wrong, and the rapist’s baby is a life and deserves to be treated with dignity.
I love this shit. Love it. I actually sorta think it’d be entertaining to see Ted Cruz elected president. Then we can have a law passed and start arresting raped women who go underground to abort the children of the rapist. It’d make a pretty spectacular reality TV show; like Cops merged with Teen Mom. We can call it, “I was raped, and now I’m in jail.” Or, actually, we can focus on women who are raped and have the babies because they’re afraid of doing time. We’ll call it, “I was raped, and I had my rapist’s baby, and now every single day I look into my child’s eyes and see the dude who raped me.” Or, wait, a better one. We’ll focus on women who were raped, then delivered the babies, then gave the babies up to adoption. It’ll be called, “I was raped, and the GOP forced me to deliver my rapist’s baby, but I gave the baby up and now I’m haunted by this shit for eternity.”
Fuck it. Scrap it all. Let’s make a true-life romantic comedy, perhaps to run immediately after the 700 Club. We’ll take the rapists, the raped and the babies. Place them all in a room with Pat Robertson and see if the healing power of Jesus can unite them into a family. We’ll call it “Two Men and a Raped Lady.” Or, “From Raped to Eternity.” Or, simply, “Fuck.”
Seriously, I can’t deal with this nonsense. Can’t deal.
If you call yourself religious, and you’re also comfortable forcing a raped woman to deliver a baby, you’re neither Godly nor pious.
You’re just an asshole damned to the very hell you fear.
So a couple of weeks ago I took my son and father in law to the Diamondbacks-Padres game at Petco Park in San Diego. Everything was fine until I went to get food at the hamburger stand near our seats. The line to order took f-o-r-e-v-e-r; probably about 35 minutes just to tell a person what we wanted. Then the second line, where one stood for food, was even longer. Having spent about $45 on three burgers, one onion rings and three drinks, I waited and waited and waited until—finally—I just grabbed an order someone left unclaimed. It was a small amount of grub, but I didn’t want to blow my night lingering in the concourse for a hamburger.
Anyhow, later that night I Tweeted about the experience, and expected nothing in return.
Instead, the good people at Petco Park DMed me immediately. There was an apology for the service, and an invitation to return for another game with the family.
Today, we returned—and it was, truly, dazzling. First, the seats were maybe 20 rows off the first base line. Second, we were met by Susan Hawke-Pfeifer, the stadium’s general manager, who escorted us to the Omni Premier Club, where we were introduced to the manager and the executive chef, then fed for free.* To be honest, there was a huge part of me that felt quite … well, stupid. Yeah, the last visit didn’t go well. But shit happens, right? The hamburger fiasco didn’t warrant such a huge response.
And yet … THAT’S customer service. For the price of swallowing a few tickets, and filling some mouths will food, the Padres guaranteed a family would come back again and again and again. They took the necessary steps to say, “Hey, we messed up, but we care enough about our customers to make right.” That stuff goes a long way.
Now compare that with a hotel we visited a few weeks back. One night the wife noticed what appeared to be a bed bug on our comforter. I immediately dashed down to the front desk and ask we be given a new room. That worked out well. But then, upon checking out, I had this exchange with the front desk clerk:
• Me: “So, the bed bugs …”
• Guy: “Yeah. Right. We’re not going to charge you for the second night.”
• Me: “I’m about to go wash everything we have in hot water. I’m freaking out that my kids have big bug bites and that they’re all over our luggage. I don’t really understand why I’m paying for either of the nights.”
• Guy: “I’m gonna have to talk to the general manager …”
Ultimately, they didn’t charge us. But it took a good amount of pleading and arguing. When, really, they should have just said, “Yup, we screwed up.”
We can’t all be the Padres.
* To be clear, I haven’t covered the Majors since 2003. I would never accept this sort of kindness were I still a baseball writer.
In case you haven’t heard this already, ESPN has fired Curt Schilling as one of its baseball analysts.
The former All-Star righthander is not one to hide his conservative views, and a few days ago he shared on Facebook a pretty nasty photo meant to demean transgenders. Here’s the actual image …
… and these are his words:
Now, to be 100-percent clear, I have long thought Curt Schilling to be an under-evolved dolt of the first degree. There’s this thing that happens to a lot of professional athletes—namely, they come to think they’re smarter than they actually are. It’s largely a result of we media folks building up their egos with repeated interviews, compliments, etc. For years, Schilling was a press go-to guy. He was well-spoken, quotable, excellent when it came to breaking down everything from the span of nine innings to the intricacies of a single pitch. Shortly after he retired, ESPN rushed to add him to its crew, and with good reason.
So, truly, we are somewhat to blame for Schilling believing himself to be a man of great wisdom.
Despite Schilling’s words, which suck, and his past comments, which also sucked, I rarely like how large sports entities like ESPN handle these things. To drift back in time a bit, in 2000—after my Sports Illustrated profile of John Rocker was released—Major League Baseball suspended the pitcher … and I was furious. Yeah, Rocker was a xenophobic racist dickhead. But if you’re gonna put your employees out there for public consumption, and you urge (and, in some cases, require) them to deal with the media, well, you can’t expect all comers to share your (and my) evolved, liberal view of the world. Not everyone is comfortable with gays. Not everyone things transgender men should use the men’s room. Are their beliefs founded in any logic or decency? No. But we are, largely, a slow-to-learn people. It takes some of us time to accept, embrace, understand. The whole transgender issue is still v-e-r-y new, and I get why it’s uncomfortable for some (educated solely via the exploits of the Kardashians) to accept.
This is especially true in sports—a largely sheltered society where jocks are instructed to turn their thoughts off and their athleticism on. It’s a do-first-think-later world, and to think men like Schilling might be evolved and equipped to handle a changing world is, truly, laughable.
Now, I am not defending Curt Schilling. Again, he’s a worthless pile of shit. But, ultimately, his firing does far more harm than good. Now the right has another gripe with the “liberal media.” Now Schilling returns to his cave to stew over the damn libs silencing him. Now Fox News can continue its “war on …” narrative.
A couple of years ago, Jim Boeheim told reporters that Carmelo Anthony was the most important player in the history of Syracuse University men’s basketball.
I remember hearing that and thinking, “What a load of short-sighted nonsense.” Yes, Anthony was wonderful. And yes, Anthony—a mere freshman who would leave at season’s end—led the Orange to the 2003 NCAA title. But, ultimately, Carmelo Anthony was a Syracuse rental. He played one year, attended few classes, never even considered earning a degree. He came and went, and probably needs a map to find his way around campus.
So, no, Carmelo Anthony most certainly was not the most important player at Syracuse. Probably the best, but of all the measurables we place upon a life, being “the best” is a far overrated one.
I’d rather be transcendent.
Dwayne (Pearl) Washington was transcendent, and if you’re reading this and thinking, “Dwayne who?” do yourself a favor and watch this. Or read this. Or ask a college basketball fan from the 1980s. Washington was Syracuse’s point guard from 1983-to-1986—a highly recruited kid out of Brooklyn who played with a style … a flair … a joy befitting his nickname. Pearl’s trademark move was something called the “shake and bake,” where he’d sorta step-step-shuffle-step—then whoooosh past a defender. He was a marvelous ballhandler during a marvelous time for college hoops. Back in the mid-1980s, the Big East was the king of the sport, and Syracuse (with Pearl) and Georgetown (Patrick Ewing, Reggie Williams, David Wingate) and St. John’s (Chris Mullin, Walter Berry) were absolute goliaths. This was hoops war—elbow, fists, sweat, blood. Ewing was a beast, Berry was dizzying, Mullin deadeye. But Pearl … man, Pearl was otherworldly. I’d never seen a college ballhandler with such style and grace; with the body control to lean in against a 7-footer and somehow spin the ball off the glass. When I picture Pearl, I imagine the man driving baseline to baseline at breakneck speed, twirling past one defender, juking another, sliding, spinning, layup.
Pearl left Syracuse after his junior year—a move he regretted for eternity. He was selected by the New Jersey Nets with the 13th pick in the 1986 Draft, and I was giddy. The Nets were my favorite team, the Pearl my favorite player. I was convinced we were about to bring Magic Johnson II to the Meadowlands. Watch out world, because Pearl’s coming …
Pearl was always sorta fat and, it seemed, unmotivated. In college, his poor shooting touch mattered little, because speed and smarts made up for deficiencies. The NBA, though, doesn’t work that way. He lasted two dreadful seasons in New Jersey, then had another year in Miami with the woeful Heat, who snagged him in the expansion draft. Professional ball just didn’t take. Maybe that’s because Pearl was, ultimately, a playground kid from Brooklyn, creating, experimenting, doing his own thing. Some guys are meant to forever be in college. Pearl gits that classification.
Pearl Washington died yesterday from a brain tumor. He was 52.
I don’t believe in the afterlife, but if—somehow—it exists, I hope Pearl Washington is wearing his old Syracuse jersey, swerving down the lane.
Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.