Pearl's Wisdom

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Basketball Hall of Famer Earl “The Pearl” Monroe was in Memphis recently to promote Diabetes Restaurant Month, a program that is challenging restaurants in 18 cities to create diabetes-friendly menu items that are also healthy for the heart. (Monroe was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1998.) He took time to answer a few questions on his new endeavor and the NBA, past and present.

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Tell us about your family’s experience with diabetes. You’ve obviously lived a physically active life and were not diagnosed until age 54.

My father actually died from complications of diabetes. I did live a physically active lifestyle, but in my pro-basketball days I also spent a lot of time eating meals on the road, so I know how hard it is to maintain a healthy diet when eating out. It’s even harder when you have type 2 diabetes. Since then I learned how to take small steps toward a healthier lifestyle — including eating right and exercising — and I want to help show people with type 2 diabetes that they can enjoy delicious meals at their favorite restaurants and stay healthy by making smart choices.

Were there symptoms you were suffering before your own diagnosis?

Before I was diagnosed, I was thirsty all the time, hungry even after eating, and experienced frequent urination, so I knew something wasn’t right. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes vary from person to person but can include unexplained weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, headaches, and tingling or numbness in hands or feet.

What were the most significant adjustments (or sacrifices) you had to make upon being diagnosed?

Since teaming up with Merck, I’ve focused on my own eating habits, which has helped to lower my blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. And I’ve even lost weight. This is important because my doctor told me that people with diabetes have twice the risk of developing heart disease than people who do not have diabetes.

I began by making small changes in my food choices and exercise habits to get healthy. It can be as simple as eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and checking food labels for high amounts of sodium and saturated fat. Most importantly, make sure you talk with your doctor about changing your diet and starting an exercise program, and about treatment options that are right for you.

Share some of the benefits you’ve realized from adjusting your lifestyle. Did you discover new food favorites? New ways to exercise?

I have started to enjoy a better way of life with my eating habits and now have more energy to do the things that I enjoy. MerckDiabetes.com is a great resource with tips on physical activity and healthy restaurant choices, my favorite diabetes-friendly and heart-healthy recipes, and information on the basics of diabetes management: blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol control, which can help reduce risk for heart disease.

Is there a psychological component to living with diabetes? It’s a condition that would seem to consume some with worry.

At first I was worried about my diagnosis with diabetes, but once I talked with my doctor, I found that I could live with diabetes and still enjoy life by taking small steps toward a healthier lifestyle.

You know something about starring as a point guard for the New York Knicks. What’s your take on the Jeremy Lin phenomenon?

Jeremy Lin has proven to be a pretty good ball player. Maybe not what we thought at the beginning, but he is active, smart, and is learning game-by-game. He’ll turn out to be a pretty good point guard for the Knicks.

You joined a good Knicks team in 1971, then led them to a championship two years later. What do you recall about your early days as a fan favorite at Madison Square Garden? As an opponent of the Knicks [during Monroe’s days with the Baltimore Bullets], I remember that the fans were always cheering! As a member of the Knicks, it was even more heartfelt. New York has a way of endearing their athletes, and I felt special there.

Who are the players you enjoy watching most today?

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Chris Paul.

Are there any players who remind you of Earl the Pearl in his prime?

No, because when I came to the league, we showed people things that they hadn’t seen before. Now today, we’ve seen most everything that players are going to do.

Do you get the chance to watch the Memphis Grizzlies at all? If so, what do you think of Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and friends?

Last year, the Grizzlies were a good, young, up-and-coming team. Now that they had a setback with Zach Randolph out and the frontcourt depleted, it seems to have hurt the team over the long haul this season.

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