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Dwayne ‘Pearl’ Washington’s jam at Nassau Coliseum remembered


Dwayne "Pearl" Washington in his Syracuse University days. Washington starred at Syracuse after winning MVP of the third annual Newsday Classic on April 27, 1983. Photo Credit: Collegiate Images/Getty Images / Collegiate Images

It was a showstopping performance in likely the single greatest all-star game in the history of metro-area high school basketball.

In a field of stars that included no fewer than a dozen future major-college players (a half-dozen of them future NBA picks), in a game that ended with his band of New York City all-stars beating a team of all-Long Island stars, 133-132, in overtime before a crowd of 8,000 at Nassau Coliseum, it was Dwayne “Pearl” Washington who stood out.

The All-American from Boys & Girls High School in Brooklyn and future star for Syracuse owned the third annual Newsday Classic that night, April 27, 1983.

He scored a game-record 53 points. He was named MVP.

He was the star among stars.

After the game, City coach Chuck Granby said facetiously: “I think he’ll make his college team.”

It is a moment remembered because Pearl Washington died Wednesday at 52 of complications stemming from a brain tumor. A moment remembered because I was then in my second year as a part-time high school sports reporter at Newsday. I was among a group of “part-timers,” as we were known, who banded together to go watch that game.

“It was one of the greatest games I ever witnessed in person,” one of those former part-timers, David Smale, said Thursday during an exchange on Facebook.

I can’t help but agree.

The Long Island roster included Providence-bound guard Billy Donovan and his Louisiana State-bound teammate at St. Agnes, Bernard Woodside; North Babylon standout Russell Pierre, bound for North Carolina State; Holy Family star Dennis Ahern, who played for Holy Cross; David Smith of Walt Whitman, and Matt Brust of Babylon, who attended North Carolina and St. John’s before getting a look with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.

The City team? In addition to Pearl, there was future St. John’s star and Knicks NBA Rookie of the Year Mark Jackson; North Carolina-bound Archbishop Molloy star Kenny “The Jet” Smith; Springfield Gardens star Rich “Radar” Anderson, the Queens player of the year, and Derrick “Band-Aid” Chievous, who came out of Holy Cross in Flushing bound for Missouri and the Houston Rockets.

As Newsday’s Gary Binford wrote in an account of that game, Washington was “larger than life” and “a player who already is a legend in his own time.”

Understand, this was 1983. There was no shot clock. There was no three-point shot. This was basketball as James Naismith invented it, sans peach basket. Old-time, knockdown, drag-out, battle royale. A cage match for so-called cagers.

Ron Mergenthaler, who covered the game for the Queens edition of Newsday, wrote how the Long Island player tasked with guarding Pearl ended up with “a severe case of windburn” with Pearl “blowing by him for layups.”

Watching from the stands, we were speechless.

With 7:25 left in regulation, Long Island had extended a 50-46 halftime lead to 90-75. All Pearl did was score the next eight points — and assist on another eight. Like that, it was 96-91.

“With 1:14 remaining,” Mergenthaler wrote, “Washington hit two free throws to cut Long Island’s lead to 112-110. Four seconds later, he made a steal and was fouled. His two free throws tied the score.”

After Woodside gave Long Island back the lead, Pearl sank a jumper and tied it again. A late layup sent the game into overtime, 116-116.

Then came the defining moment. The one that began with about 20 seconds left, Long Island clinging to a 132-131 lead.

“I don’t remember the score,” Smale, my fellow part-timer, said Thursday. “But I remember the final play. Pearl came across midcourt and was immediately double-teamed. Eventually he was triple-teamed. Everyone knew he was going to shoot.”

He didn’t. Instead Pearl, full of dazzle, full of dare, suckered everyone in to defend him — and laid off a pass.

A perfect pass.

Chievous took that pass and sank the game-winning baseline jumper with four seconds left.

Mark Jackson finished with 16 points, Kenny Smith with 22. Chievous had a nice 14. Donovan and Woodside each had nine for Long Island. Ahern had 16, Pierre 20 and Smith 21.

And Pearl Washington?

All he did was make 19 field goals and 15 free throws for a Newsday Classic-record 53 points.

He went on to Syracuse, where coach Jim Boeheim called Pearl “one of a kind” for his whirling-dervish performances on the national stage.

And so what if Washington never lived up to his immense advance billing in the NBA? So what if, after being taken by the New Jersey Nets 13th overall in 1986, Washington played only 194 games for the Nets and Miami Heat, averaging 8.6 points, 3.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.3 turnovers?

That night back in 1983, Washington stepped into the spotlight and proved himself truly to be “Pearl.”

It was a game for the ages. It also was a game that cemented my love for basketball.

That fall I replaced Mergenthaler on the city high school hoops beat. Now in my 35th year at Newsday, since 2000 a news reporter, I’m still thankful to have been there the night of Pearl’s jam.

John Valenti covers breaking news for Newsday.

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