Leap of Faith



Daughter of Earl Monroe

When I was about six years old, my dad would take me to Central Park on Saturdays. I would play on the jungle gym and watch as the other kids jumped off the top of the highest platform. I envied them and wanted to do the same, but I was terrified because it seemed so far above the ground. I was sure that I would get hurt. The fear of the unknown made me freeze every time I climbed to the top. Every inch of the way, my father was coaxing me to jump, telling me he would never let me fall, asking me to let him be my personal safety net. I was not ready.

To me and to most of the world, my father was a giant with a commanding, deep baritone voice and a solid body, just slightly worn from his career in the NBA. Back then he was so much taller than I was, yet now we stand eye to eye. His legendary moves and soft touch earned him the nickname “Black Jesus” or most notably Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. I was unfazed by the hype…not willing to let even “Jesus” catch me that day on the jungle gym!

As a child I really had no idea what my father did. People often approached me and said, “Oh my God, your dad is Earl Monroe?” and I never understood what the big deal was. There were no videos, pictures, or trophies in our house. He retired from the NBA in 1980 before I was even born. In fact, it wasn’t until he was inducted in the Hall of Fame that it dawned on me that my dad, the man who filled his days playing tennis, running both a construction company and record label, and triumphing over my mother and me in family card games, was an amazing, well-respected, and accomplished basketball player.

Watching my dad handle an array of tough situations showed me how to tackle things with a sense of fearlessness. In the early 90’s, a business partner mismanaged money, leaving my father $4 million in debt to the IRS. Almost overnight our lives changed. We sold our house and moved; my family struggled financially and emotionally. It was then that I got to see a lot of things people always told me they admired about my father. He was forced to start fresh at 52, getting a job and working hard for the next several years in order to rebuild what he had lost. Since my father had always found solace in music, he got involved in the music industry both as a producer and manager of talent. He poured himself into his artists. It’s the same approach he took on the court—dedication and perfection.

It was no surprise that his favorite words of advice come from a Billie Holiday song, “God bless the child that’s got its own.” My father’s mother passed away when he was young leaving him to look after himself. To him, those lyrics inspired him to take care of himself, which is why he encouraged me to make it on my own without his fame or money. In fact, a major reason why I decided to start playing basketball in high school was to earn an athletic scholarship to pay for college. Many have asked me why the daughter of an NBA legend would have to play ball in order to pay for school? The era during which my father played was not the multi-million dollar contract, sneaker endorsement world of today. And yet, even if it had been, I am certain that I would still have had to pay my own way.

For the last couple years, I’ve been in a state of purgatory that many “twenty-something year olds” go through. Not really knowing what I wanted to do after graduating college, nor being willing to commit to anything fully, I let fear take over and decided not to go through with applying to graduate school. I was not ready.

But recently, that all changed. Even though I was in a tough spot and buried with self-doubt, I thought back to being a kid on that ledge in the park on that sunny Saturday morning. After many weekend visits of not being ready, I had finally decided I was ready to take that leap: I inched closer to the edge, looked out at the world, then down at my father with arms open wide, took a deep breath, and took the leap. I flew through the air, wanting more. What an exhilarating feeling! And yet I wondered why had I wasted so much time being scared?

And so again, all these years later, I hear my father saying words of encouragement, reminding me to believe in myself and stop making excuses and feel ready. I inch closer to the edge of uncertainty, look out at the world and take the leap of faith by enrolling in graduate school. Studying Sports Management, I am taking that leap of faith as I did that day on the jungle gym long ago. I realize what I am capable of doing and, just as important, I understand that my father will be there, with arms open wide, waiting for me to jump.

Earl “The Pearl” Monroe is a two-time All-American basketball player.  He averaged 41.5 points per game as a senior in college and was drafted 2nd in the 1967 NBA draft. In a 13-year career that included playing for the Baltimore Bullets and the New York Knicks, Monroe scored 17,454 points and 3,594 assists, was a four-time NBA All-Star, NBA Rookie of the Year and won the 1973 NBA championship with the Knicks. Monroe was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990.

Maya Monroe graduated from Georgia Tech in 2005 where she was recruited to play basketball.  Since then, she has worked for Dan Klores Communications, a Public Relations firm in New York City.   Maya is the co-founder of Hoop Fundamentals, a foundation whose aim is to teach quality basketball skills along with using basketball to teach discipline and life-skills to children in NYC.  Maya is getting her Masters degree in Sports Management and is also the Head Coach for the women’s basketball team at the College of St. Elizabeth in New Jersey.