Our museum has a close connection with the National Sports Media Association (NSMA) and its award event. We hosted a welcome reception for event attendees last summer and museum co-owner, Christy Spencer, serves on the NSMA board.

So when we learned that this year’s NSMA Annie Award recipient was none other than local Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, we knew we had to share more about this great local sports connector.

What is the Annie Award?

This special, annual award and event honors leaders who have impacted the Winston-Salem community for the better, by connecting area residents through sports. It is named after the late Ann Spencer, who was the former CEO of Goody’s Powder and longtime sponsor of NASCAR. Spencer was also an avid fan of the University of North Carolina sports and basketball, in general. The Ann Spencer Connector Award honors individuals who have been “connectors” within the sports world. Spencer understood the impact sports could have on communities as a means of bringing together fans and the media. Spencer passed away in 2016, and the National Sports Media Association set up are presented its first Annie Award in 2018 to Dr. Harold Pollard.

Proceeds from The Annie Award go to support the NSMA’s dual mission of providing educational and networking opportunities to future generations of sports media, and honoring a legacy of excellence in the sports media industry.

Who is Earl “The Pearl” Monroe?

Earl Monroe is likely one of the most recognizable graduates of Winston Salem State University. In the late 60s, Monroe, his teammates and Coach Big House Gaines dominated Division II basketball. Monroe was the leading scorer in the 1966-67 season when the Rams went 31-1 and landed the national championship. Monroe personally averaged 41.5 points per game – and this was before the three-point line came into effect.

Monroe played college basketball at a time when the country was in the midst of the civil rights era, and tensions were running high. As Monroe and the team’s successful season grew, basketball games were eventually moved from the tiny gym on campus to War Memorial Coliseum, in order to accommodate the fan numbers. This created a more diverse fan base, as both black and white people showed up to watch great basketball…without any problems. Everyone in the community was excited to see such great, local athletes on a quest to a national championship.

After college, Monroe had a lengthy career in the NBA, playing for the Baltimore Bullets (now Washington Wizards) and then finishing his professional career with the New York Knicks. He went on to become the commissioner for the United States Basketball League and received many accolades. He was named one of the 50 players on the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996 and inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

A fitting award recipient

Most likely, Monroe had no idea what his participation in basketball at WSSU and the team’s success did to bring together a community in a difficult time in our country. WSSU became the first historically black school to win an NCAA championship…and Monroe helped to shine a spotlight on the school. Even after moving on to the NBA, Monroe continued to come back Winston-Salem and be a part of the sports community. He was one of the producers of Black Magic, an ESPN documentary film that celebrates the contributions of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities that primed America’s best Black athletes before integration.

Not only did Monroe stay connected to the sport, he served as a spokesperson for various health associations, including the American Heart Association and Merck’s Journey for Control, promoting healthy eating for diabetes, which Monroe and siblings have.

How you can be a part of the fun

There’s still time to purchase tickets for the award dinner, which will be held at Forsyth Country Club on April 26. Get yours and the opportunity to not only hear from Monroe, who is something of a local legend, but also keynote speaker John X. Miller, Bob Ryan and Billy Packer. Tickets are on sale at https://nationalsportsmedia.org/2019-annie.

Photo credit: From the lens of George Kalinsky

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