Earl 'The Pearl' assists diabetes cause

A Grays Ferry basketball icon teams up with Merck to spread awareness about the disease.

By Joseph Myers
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 14, 2012

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Earl “The Pearl” Monroe enjoys preaching the ABCs of diabetes, A1C, or blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. At 67, the South Philly native feels in great shape 14 years after his diagnosis.

Photo by Rob Torney

As a 13-year star guard for the Baltimore Bullets and the New York Knicks, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe focused on tallying points, steals and assists. Having dueled with Type 2 diabetes since 1998, the former resident of 26th and Manton streets now concentrates on recording his blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.

To tout his increasing success against the malady, the Hall of Famer enjoyed a Friday meal at Northern Liberties’ A Full Plate Café, furthering his three-year involvement with Diabetes Restaurant Month, the brainchild of pharmaceutical heavyweight Merck & Co., Inc.

“I had initially thought it was a death sentence,” the second overall pick in the ’67 NBA Draft said of grappling with his diagnosis. “However, I vowed to be healthy and productive.”

Monroe said he had felt odd for at least 18 months prior to the news, suffering immense hunger even after eating, sweating profusely and urinating frequently. Following wife Marita’s advice to seek consultation, he learned he has numerous peers in the battle to monitor glucose levels.

He and 26 million afflicted Americans find themselves two to four times more likely to suffer from heart disease and strokes than diabetes-free individuals, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Well-versed in different sorts of statistics, Monroe decided to take command of his body, which helped him to score 17,454 points and to earn a spot on the league’s ’96 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.

“It was hard at first,” the Grays Ferry product said of modifying his diet, which he said had succumbed to tempting yet nutritionally inferior grub during his playing days. “Now, I do so on a regular basis, so it has become a way of life.”

That Monroe made poor food selections while on the road reflects a far too common occurrence among Americans. Americans obtain more than one-third of their calories from provisions eaten outside the home, according to a Merck release. As that information includes fast food establishments and sit-down restaurants, he knew that accepting Merck’s offer to advocate for enhanced nutritional knowledge would strengthen more than his bank account.

“I have derived so much excitement from adding contacts, picking up more information and letting people know what I know,” Monroe said.

He has visited 18 cities, with each site uniting eateries with endocrinologists and registered dieticians, who create diabetes-friendly dishes. Philadelphia has 11 participating dining destinations, a total Monroe respects because it represents an increase from a previous stop in his native city.

“The word is expanding and I love being able to help it to do so,” he said.

A disciple of portion control, Monroe finds that penchants for gorging and supersizing doom people to perilous dietary results and is using his voice to have patrons demand difference.

“Everything is good, in moderation,” he said while waiting to dine with Helen Rayon, the West Philadelphia Senior Community Center’s health and wellness coordinator, and dietician Delores Merrick. “When people are out, they should not become locked into a certain way of ordering. Substitutions should be available and asked for.”

Since teaming with Merck in 2009, Monroe has helped the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based company to devise tips for dining out and to construct exercise plans and nourishing recipes, available at, where those eager to gain control over their health will find greetings and best wishes from the former baller, a four-time All-Star who had his number retired by both of his former employers.

“My favorite meal is a vegetable medley with brown rice and grilled shrimp, chicken or fish,” he said. “Good food and the support of family and friends have made winning my fight much more rewarding.”


After his secondary career at Southwest Philly’s John Bartram High School, Monroe matriculated at North Carolina’s Winston-Salem State University. He played for the Bullets, now the Washington Wizards, for four seasons, making two All-Star appearances, winning the 1968 Rookie of the Year Award and appearing on the ’69 All-NBA First Team. Four games into his fifth season, the Knicks acquired him, pairing him with Walt Frazier to form the “Rolls Royce Backcourt,” a combination that led to their team’s crowning as the ’73 champions. Knee troubles forced the playmaker to retire at 35, with his enshrinement into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame occurring in ’90.

“It was an exciting era in which to grow as a player,” Monroe, who had even included the Sixers on a list of teams to which he desired a trade before his arrival in New York, said.

While his period admired flash, Monroe, whose career-high of 56 points came during his rookie year against the Los Angeles Lakers, said it lacked a devotion to fitness that today’s generation of superstars adheres to constantly. Once he realized his body was revolting against him, he took action.

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