In the locker room after the opening game, the reporters had at last left the rookie, and he dressed. Then, tentatively, he headed downstairs toward the crowd that was waiting just for him. A new, small anxiety creased his face. "This is what I really hate," he said. "The autographs and everything." But politely, self-consciously, he waded through them, the mayor's book under his arm, signing his own name now, nodding thanks. "The Pearl, the Pearl," they cried, and more of them started drifting away from the bandstand, where Lionel Hampton was leading a post-game concert. Steve Smith, a schoolteacher in Camden, N.J., who had co-captained Winston-Salem with Monroe and had come down to see his friend's debut, stood to the side of the throng and watched, shaking his head gently at the scene. Hampton, the sweat pouring from his face, was still holding a coterie of handclappers—will the big bands ever come back?—and launched into the finale, the boffo finish, old Flyin' Home, just as the rookie signed his way through the last of the fans. "Hi, Home," Monroe said to Smith, exuberantly slapping his outstretched hands. "Hi, Home," Smith said to the Pearl.
They started out into a slight, cold drizzle. At the last, a little boy rushed up to the rookie and presented him with a huge red sign, YES, EARL IS THE REAL PEARL, it read. Monroe thanked him, tucked the sign under his arm with the mayor's book and moved off into the cold. The temperature had crashed all the way down into the 40s, and for the moment, anyway—between Colt Sunday afternoons—there was winter and basketball in the damp Baltimore air.