Through some of the most bitter years, 1959 to 1964, Gaines's teams went 114-26. But perhaps the most significant occurrence of this period came in 1963 when that old-player network—this time the recruiter was John Leon Whitley—delivered a skinny, 6'2" guard named Earl Monroe to Winston-Salem. In his first game, Monroe and his teammates faced the national champions of the NAIA, Pan American, which featured a behemoth named Luke Jackson under the boards. Gaines sent in young Monroe, who shot 0 for 8 from the field. Even the Pearl was once just a freshman. Gaines smiled at him and said, "Don't worry, son. They'll be singing your praises before you leave."
"He was just a shy young kid who needed a little dental work and a lot of encouragement," says Gaines. Said Williams, "When Monroe first came there was a lot of tension between the communities, black and white. But Earl sort of transcended all that. We played our first games at the Winston-Salem Coliseum while Earl was here. Both communities were drawn to the games, which was unusual. His success led to a certain pride in the institution. All during that time in the '60s, we had no instances of extreme violence here. I think Earl was the cause of that. I know he was the cause of a lot of won games."
In the summers, Monroe would take that magnetism to the playgrounds of New York City, where he made even the stoic young Lew Alcindor smile with his court-length bounce passes and flat tip-toe jumper. He was a whirling dervish who could invade the key with the ball on some kind of invisible strand. Later, Monroe bridged the gap between playground legend and Broadway star, performing for the Knicks on a stage called Madison Square Garden. As for Gaines, he was 99-18 while Monroe was at Winston-Salem, with an NCAA Division II national championship in 1967, the same year he lost the CIAA tournament final, 103-82, to North Carolina A&T. Monroe, who averaged 42.7 points that season, was seemingly oblivious to the storm around him. When the Rams went to Akron to play the Zips, the crowd cried for the niggers to go home. Monroe did—after he dropped 53 on Akron and Winston-Salem won 92-84. Then there was the CIAA tournament game in which Bobby Dandridge of Norfolk State—Sweet Bobby D—scored 20 points on the Rams. Monroe answered with 47. Winston-Salem won 117-113.
"Clarence Gaines was a father figure to me," says Monroe. "I went to school to play ball, but he turned that around in my first year. He let me know what I was there for, no matter how well I could play."
Monroe was the NBA Rookie of the Year with the Baltimore Bullets in 1968. When he made his inimitable spin move, not even the refs were sure what he was doing. Defenders were similarly mesmerized. When Monroe was traded to the Knicks—to the team with Walt (Clyde) Frazier in the backcourt, Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley at forward, and the indomitable Willis Reed in the middle—many people questioned whether this showboat with the gimpy knees wouldn't undermine New York's selfless style of play. Two years later, when Monroe and the Knicks won the NBA title, the questions were answered.
"Earl was from a different cut. He had a vision," says Attles. "He always knew what he was doing. People talked about the spin like it wasn't fundamental basketball. They don't realize that Earl always spun toward the basket. And when it was time for him to tone his game down—difficult to do at that level—so the Knicks could win, he did that. He did that with ease. You're just an extension out there of all the people who taught you. Earl was an extension of Gaines."
When Monroe's number 15 jersey was lifted into the Madison Square Garden rafters last year, Earl asked for only two coaches to attend—Red Holzman of the Knicks and Gaines.
"I classify Earl as a humanitarian and a diplomat," says Gaines. "He came along when segregation patterns were breaking. He helped break them. He opened minds. He was an artist."
Even as Gaines speaks between mouthfuls at a seafood restaurant on the west side of Winston-Salem, a white man, 60-ish, comes up to shake his hand. "Coach Gaines, good to see you," the man says.
"Welcome," says Gaines.