“The Hawk” was possibly the best basketball player you barely saw. The potentially best years of his career he spent blackballed by NCAA colleges and universities and the NBA, all for something he could not have done.
His high school teams went undefeated as a junior and senior, winning the New York Public School Athletic League title both years. He averaged 25.5 pts as a senior, scoring 60 one night. He received an athletic scholarship to the University of Iowa but was expelled after being caught up in the 1961 College Basketball Gambling Scandal, accused of shaving points. He could not have done so because freshman weren’t allowed to participate in varsity sports, which he never got a chance to play. His name came up in a conversation and New York detectives proclaimed him guilty by association. He was denied legal representation when talking to them, ultimately he was neither arrested nor indicted.
After his class graduated (more arcane NBA rules) he went undrafted by the NBA and went on to play with the Pittsburgh Rens of the American Basketball League (ABL) where he was named MVP. The League folded after his first year and he spent four years with the Harlem Globetrotters. He also filed a $6 million lawsuit against the NBA for unfairly banning him when there was no evidence against him. While the lawsuit was pending, he played for the Pittsburgh Pipers of the new American Basketball Association (ABA) where he led the league in scoring and was named the regular season and playoff MVP. He eventually settled with the NBA for $1.3 million and his rights were assigned to the expansion Phoenix Suns. Despite having undergone knee surgery, he averaged 24.6 points and 10.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists his first year. Because of his knee, he only played 7 years in the NBA though was an All-Star 4 times.
The summary of Connie’s career doesn’t begin to describe his ability and impact. Despite his success with the Globetrotters, ABL, ABA, and NBA. What all the words before fail to articulate is that Connie Hawkins was a legend. He made his name on the playgrounds of New York and the famous Rucker League. When Oscar Robertson saw him play, he asked, “What college does he play for?” Connie was a junior in high school at the time. A star Rucker League player said, “Wilt Chamberlain was the best player I ever went up against, Connie was next.” He had huge hands and could palm a ball and wave it around. Helicopter dunks, plucking a quarter off the top of the backboard, Connie did all that but it was the way he embarrassed players on the court that made him special. He was magic.
When he finally made it to his first NBA All-Star game, I was a sophomore in high school. He didn’t start the game, but when he finally got in, he made a move I’d never seen on a basketball court before. The next day at school in gym class, we spent an hour trying to duplicate what we ultimately could not.
We never got to see The Hawk in his prime on national television. That is our loss. In 1992, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. There’s already a book about his life, “Foul! The Connie Hawkins Story.” I’ve read it and heartily recommend it to any who wish to know more about the man behind the legend. Rest in Peace Connie!