On the day of his passing, former Heat coaches on Wednesday remembered Dwyane “Pearl” Washington as a shy, kind person who did his best on-court work at home during the Heat’s inaugural season.
Washington, who captivated college basketball fans with his flair, deft ball-handling skills and creativity as a Syracuse point guard and then scored the most points in the Heat’s first ever regular-season game, died after a battle with cancer. He was 52.
Washington was beset with medical problems since a brain tumor was first diagnosed in 1995. He had surgery last August after a recurrence of the tumor.
“It’s sad,” said Heat broadcaster Ron Rothstein, who coached Washington in his only season with the Heat. “Way too early for him to have to go.
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“I remember him as a high school player… He was a man amongst boys. He was quiet, wasn’t really that outgoing, wasn’t loud in the locker room.”
Washington was born on Jan. 24, 1964 and was a New York City playground legend growing up in Brooklyn. He got his nickname as an 8-year-old when he was compared to former NBA star Earl “the Pearl” Monroe.
He was the nation’s most highly recruited basketball player and committed to Syracuse, where he averaged 15.6 points, 6.7 assists and 2.7 rebounds for the Orangemen during the Big East Conference’s halcyon years.
His signature move was the crossover dribble that froze defenders.
Washington was drafted 13th overall by New Jersey in 1986 and averaged 8.9 points in two seasons.
The Heat selected him in the 1988 expansion draft and Washington led the Heat with 16 points in the Heat’s first regular-season game, a 111-91 loss to the Clippers.
Washington appeared in 54 games, including eight starts, during the Heat’s inaugural season, averaging 7.6 points and 4.2 assists.
“Great guy,” said Heat broadcaster Tony Fiorentino, an assistant coach on Rothstein’s staff. “He had an unbelievable season at home. He didn’t play well on the road.
“One time I was at a clinic and he was there with three teenage kids around him and he dribbled and six hands and nobody touched the ball. He was a magician with the ball. He didn’t have the best of bodies to play in the NBA and that’s why he didn’t last in the league very long. One of the best all-time high school and college players.”
The Heat did not retain him and he spent the next two seasons playing in the Continental Basketball Association.
After his playing career, “he made something of himself,” Rothstein said. “He got a good job with the New York City Board of Education, doing special projects.”
Washington is the second confirmed player who has died from the original Heat team. Pat Cummings was the first; he died in 2012 at 55.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Duke coach Mike Krzyewski has maintained a close relationship with Heat forward Justise Winslow, reaching out several times recently to the player who helped lead Duke to a national title in his one season with the Blue Devils.
Before the Heat-Hornets series, “he told me good luck,” Winslow said. “He texted me Happy Easter the other day... He called me on the phone. We talked. Wished me luck. Just talked about personal stuff.”
▪ Game 4 of the Heat-Hornets series was set for 7 p.m. Monday in Charlotte, with Fox Sports Sun and NBA TV televising. Game 5, if needed, will be at 8 p.m. next Wednesday in Miami, on Sun and TNT.