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“It’s pretty dope,” Jackson said Wednesday. “But I’m here to win. .... I appreciate it, but I’m trying to win.”

Baltimore is experiencing a once-in-a-generation athletic phenomenon named Lamar Jackson. He’s not just the talk of the town; he’s the talk of the sports world. MVP? Next Super Bowl champ? Maybe. But one thing is clear: Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is the most exciting athlete to wear a Baltimore uniform since Earl Monroe.

Consider the parallel.

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Earl Monroe was the starting guard for the Baltimore Bullets basketball team from 1967-1971. After a record-breaking senior year when he led the Winston-Salem Rams to a college basketball championship, Mr. Monroe’s rookie year as a pro took the basketball world by surprise. He mixed herky-jerky, fade-away jump shots with the smooth maneuvers of a whirling dervish. His sleight-of-hand antics changed the rules on dribbling, and his no-look passes bedeviled opponents.

Earl Monroe in 1968
Earl Monroe in 1968 (Baltimore Sun 1968)

Indeed, sports writers used terms such as spectacular, sensational or unbelievable to account for Mr. Monroe’s court wizardry. Though a college sports writer nicknamed him “Earl the Pearl,” to his teammates and fans he was “Magic.” He could make something out of nothing.

Likewise, Lamar Jackson can turn a 10-yard loss into a 15-yard gain. He can fake out quick linebackers and outrun speedy corners. His passing techniques look unorthodox at times, yet he remains a marvel to watch. In a recent touchdown run, one hard-nosed sports reporter, The Sun’s Mike Preston, could only describe Jackson’s play as “stuff from another planet.” To pull off such stuff before the best players in any sport is a rare accomplishment.

Truly exciting athletes do more than just entertain — they also improve their teams and fellow players. In Mr. Monroe’s rookie season the Bullets improved by 16 games. Michael Jordan’s Bulls won 11 more games, and Earvin Johnson’s Lakers had 13 more wins. The highest scorer in the NBA during his first two seasons, Mr. Monroe led the Bullets from last place to first place.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson autographs a jersey after beating the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Sunday, Sep. 8, 2019. (John McCall / South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson autographs a jersey after beating the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Sunday, Sep. 8, 2019. (John McCall / South Florida Sun Sentinel) (John McCall / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

In his first 16 games as a starter, Lamar Jackson’s team is 13 and 3 — a game better than current MVP Patrick Mahomes’ first 16 starts with Kansas City. And his quarterback rating of 94 tops future Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady’s 90 score. He directed a mediocre Ravens team into the play-offs last year, with a second play-off spot likely this season.

We all should try to enjoy Lamar Jackson while we can. He is delightful, intense, considerate, competitive and down to earth. Thinkers and mystics invariably ponder over what fortune will present us the day after tomorrow. Earl Monroe abruptly left the Bullets after just a few seasons, traded to the rival New York Knicks.

We cannot guess the blessings or curses that await Lamar Jackson. He’s only 22 years old, and some raise concerns that a running quarterback like Mr. Jackson is at greater risk for severe injury than a pocket passer (though the research varies on that). Great and early success might lead excessive pride to overcome Mr. Jackson’s cheerful humility; numerous stars have undermined their careers with a scandal in which they succumbed to one vice or another. Should Mr. Jackson’s star continue to rise, free agency and the big business of might tempt him to abandon the Ravens.

Baltimore fans have been spoiled with an array of athletes who rank among candidates for Greatest Of All Time: John Unitas, Wes Unseld, Ray Lewis, Cal Ripken, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Ed Reed, Jim Palmer, Earl Monroe and the greatest of all greats, Babe Ruth. Now we are being spoiled again by another magician at work.

Thank you, Lamar Jackson, for giving Baltimore something more to be proud of.

Alexander E. Hooke (ahooke@stevenson.edu) is a philosophy professor at Stevenson University.

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