The Hawk!

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The very best basketball player Pittsburgh has ever seen...


Hawkins_ABA_1 Hawkins_ABA_2 Left and Right--The Hawk with the Pittsburgh Pipers of the ABA Below--with the Phoenix Suns of the NBA and, below that, today.



Born: July 17, 1942 Brooklyn, New York

College: University of Iowa (Did Not Play)

Height: 6' 8" Weight:215

Resides: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Connie Hawkins Career Statistics

League/Years GP FG% FT% Reb RPG   Ast APG   Points PPG
ABL 1961-63   94 .508 .787 1243 13.9   225   2.4   2592 27.6
ABA 1967-69 117 .515 .765 1479 12.6   504   4.3   3295 28.2
NBA 1969-76 499 .467 .785 3971   8.0 2052   4.1   8233 16.5
TOTAL 710 .480 .781 6693   9.4 2781   3.9 14120 19.9

Teams Played For:

ABL Pittsburgh Rens 1961-1963 (ABL disbanded 12-31-62)

ABA Pittsburgh Pipers 1967-68, Minnesota Pipers 1968-69

NBA Phoenix Suns 1969-73, Los Angeles Lakers 1973-75, Atlanta Hawks 1975-76


ABL Most Valuable Player, 1961-62

ABA Most Valuable Player, 1967-68

ABA Champion Pittsburgh Pipers 1967-68 Pipers_Logo

ABL All-Star 1962

ABA All-Star 1968 and 1969

NBA All-Star 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1973

ABL First Team All-Star 1962

ABA First Team All-Star 1968 and 1969

NBA First Team All-Star 1970

Team MVP Phoenix Suns 1971

Selected to Basketball Hall of Fame 1991

When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired, he listed Hawkins as one of the top 15 players he had played with or against in his 20-year NBA career.

Ask 10 basketball fans to name the greatest New York City playground legend ever, and the name Connie Hawkins would probably be mentioned all ten times.

Hawkins' large hands, acrobatic swoops and monster dunks paved the way for the flamboyant artistry of Julius Erving and Michael Jordan. In fact, Hawkins first dunked a basketball when he was 11 years old at PS 3 in Brooklyn.

The Hawk's game was predicated on the spectacular, and everything about his on- and off-the-court presence oozed with excitement. From his sporty FuManchu mustache to his large hands to his seemingly effortless control of the basketball, Hawkins' above-the-rim game filled basketball arenas all over the country.

The Hawk was a playground legend growing up in his native Brooklyn. He was a two-time All-City selection at Boys High School and a Parade magazine All-America as a senior in 1960. Hawkins left the University of Iowa during his freshman year, and in 1962, at age 19, was named Most Valuable Player of the American Basketball League with the Pittsburgh Rens. He was an All-ABL selection and played in the only ABL All-Star game.

Hawkins' talents were so considerable that he found a home with the Harlem Globetrotters from 1964 to 1966. In the inaugural season of the American Basketball Association, Hawkins was named league MVP after leading the Pittsburgh Pipers to their only league title while averaging 26.8 ppg and 13.5 rpg. The Hawk was a two-time All-ABA selection.

Hawkins played seven NBA seasons with Phoenix, Los Angeles and Atlanta, averaging 16.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg for a career. As a member of the Suns, Hawkins became the first Phoenix Sun ever named to the NBA's First Team. Hawkins is the first Sun elected to the Hall of Fame, and currently works for the Suns as a community relations representative.

Connie Hawkins's career holds as much mystique as that of any other NBA Hall of Famer. A man of remarkable talent who played much of his career in the shadows, he didn't put up legendary numbers during his seven years in the NBA: only 16.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Nevertheless, Hawkins was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1991, an acknowledgment that he had been unjustly denied the opportunity to show his talent in his most productive years, and that most basketball fans had likewise been denied the opportunity to see the best that this innovative player had to offer.

Most of what Connie Hawkins did was never caught on film. He was a New York playground legend who was exiled for years to exhibitions with obscure teams in half-filled arenas. Accounts of his finest moments circulated by word of mouth, and he never lost his hold on the imaginations of those fans that did catch him in his prime.

Praised by his contemporaries as perhaps the most talented forward ever to play the game (this was before Julius Erving and Larry Bird), the 6 foot 8 inch Hawkins was known as one of the first players capable of swooping, soaring flights to the hoop, followed by acrobatic, throw-down dunks.

Cornelius Hawkins was born on July 17, 1942, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. By the age of 11 he was dunking. Word flew through the neighborhood. Pretty soon there were stories that had him jumping off the planet. They claimed he broke the laws of gravity. "Someone said if I didn't break them, I was slow to obey them," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In 1960 he was a Parade magazine High School All-American. But in 1961, when he was a freshman at Iowa, a gambling and point-shaving scandal broke out in New York. Hawkins was not arrested, indicted, or even directly implicated. But it was suggested that he had introduced other players to a man convicted of fixing games. The principals in the scandal claimed that Hawkins had no knowledge of any fixed games. Nevertheless, he was linked to the scandal and therefore tainted. Iowa said, "So long." The NBA, a young league struggling for growth and mindful of its image, said, "No, never."

So Hawkins became a nomad. He toured the world with the Harlem Globetrotters and played with fledgling leagues while hoping that he would eventually be allowed to fly with the big birds.

At age 19 he played a season for the Pittsburgh Rens of the American Basketball League and was named the league's Most Valuable Player. The best thing about the ABL, said Hawkins, was that it had a team in Hawaii. The ABL folded during its second season, and Hawkins circled the world with the Globetrotters for two years. It wasn't competition, but Hawkins needed the paycheck. "There was a chance that I couldn't have gotten a job at all," he recalled in 1992.

Hawkins played 70 games for the Pittsburgh Pipers in the inaugural 1967-68 season of the American Basketball Association. The ABA was a little flaky, but its teams did have a lot of great talent on their rosters. And unlike the Globetrotters, and to a large extent, the ABL, it was a bona fide professional league.

The ABA had expected its star attraction to be Rick Barry, who had been lured over from the NBA's San Francisco Warriors, but Barry was forced to sit out the season as the result of a legal ruling. So Hawkins became the foremost star in the new league. Roger Brown and Doug Moe, two other players who had been tainted by the college betting scandals but, like Hawkins, were never convicted of any wrongdoing, also hooked up with the new league and were among its best performers.

Hawkins led Pittsburgh to a 54-24 regular-season record and into the playoffs. The Pipers waxed the Indiana Pacers in three straight games in the opening round, and then trounced the Minnesota Muskies, four games to one, to enter the first ABA Finals. Their opponent was the New Orleans Buccaneers. The New Orleans squad took the series lead, three games to two, but the Pipers regrouped to take the final two contests and claim the ABA Championship.

Hawkins led the league in scoring with 26.8 points per game and pulled down 13.5 rebounds per contest, second in the circuit to Mel Daniels of Minnesota. He shot .519 from the field, second in the ABA to teammate Tom "Trooper" Washington. Hawkins's numbers earned him the ABA Most Valuable Player Award for 1967-68. He was joined on the first All-ABA Team by Doug Moe, Mel Daniels, Larry Jones, and Piper teammate Charlie Williams.

The next year the team moved to Minnesota, and Hawkins played about half of the season. In 47 games he averaged 30.2 points (second in the ABA to the Oakland Oaks' Rick Barry) and 11.4 rebounds (fifth in the league), while shooting .503 from the field. He repeated as an All-ABA selection, joining Barry, Daniels, James Jones, and Larry Jones.

The Pipers moved back to Pittsburgh for the 1969-70 season (and changed their name to the Condors the season after that), but the Hawk was about to fly to greener pastures. In two ABA seasons Hawkins had averaged 28.2 points and 12.6 rebounds. His playoff scoring average was also 28.2 points per game.

Hawkins was an awesome offensive force in one-on-one situations-a shot creator who was quick, agile, and a great leaper. A decent outside shooter, he was most in his element when exploding past defenders, wheeling toward the basket with giant strides, and packing the ball through the hoop. "He was the first guy on that Dr. J, Michael Jordan level," said Doug Moe in Sports Illustrated. "Long strides. Hold it in one hand. Wheel it around. Nobody could match him for that."

In 1969 a couple of significant events occurred. A Life magazine article strongly suggested that Hawkins was innocent of any wrongdoing in the gambling scandal of nearly a decade earlier. The article painted Hawkins as a terrified teenager who had been trying to mollify his questioners by agreeing with them. While the article was causing a stir, Hawkins's lawsuit against the NBA was working its way toward a resolution. Later that year NBA Commissioner J. Walter Kennedy lifted the ban against Hawkins after settling his antitrust suit for more than $1 million. That allowed Hawkins to join the Phoenix Suns at age 27.

Hawkins was generous in his feelings toward the league. "I was so happy to play, I didn't have any problems with animosity or bitterness at all," he said. "As soon as I got that Phoenix Suns uniform, I just wanted to play."

Having found redemption, Hawkins now set out to prove that he was as good as his legend. In 1969-70 Hawkins played 81 games with Phoenix and poured in 24.6 points per game, sixth in the NBA. His scoring average was tops on the Suns, who had two other 20-point scorers in Dick Van Arsdale and Gail Goodrich. Hawkins also hauled in 10.4 rebounds per contest and doled out 391 assists, nearly 5 per game. He was named to the All-NBA First Team along with Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Jerry West, and Billy Cunningham.

Although Hawkins's numbers slipped slightly over the next two seasons, he was still a star. He averaged 20.9 and 21.0 points in 1970-71 and 1971-72, respectively, but his rebounds per game fell to single digits.

Those would be considered fantastic seasons for most players, but Hawkins came into the league with a reputation. Some writers and fans began to make critical comments. There were questions about his desire to win. The athleticism was there, but the passion seemed to be lacking. Maybe, it was said, the intensity had been left on the playground, on the ABL and ABA courts, or in clowning with the Globetrotters. Opponents would have none of it. "If Connie Hawkins has slowed down," Detroit Pistons Coach Ray Scott was quoted as saying, "I wish he'd show it against us."

By 1972-73 Charlie Scott was the scoring workhorse for Phoenix, averaging 25.3 points. Hawkins's skills were beginning to fade a bit, but he was still able to score 16.1 points per game on guile and savvy. After eight games in 1973-74 he was traded to Los Angeles. The Lakers were aging; Wilt Chamberlain had retired, and injuries limited Jerry West to just 31 games. Hawkins, too, had entered the stage of his career where, although he was still playing solid minutes, his numbers were declining-for example, his scoring dropped to 12.6 points per game.

In 1974-75, appearing in 43 games with the Lakers, Hawkins was a spot player, averaging 8.0 points. In 1975-76 he moved on to Atlanta and contributed 8.2 points per game. Hawkins retired after that season at age 33. In his seven NBA seasons Hawkins averaged 16.5 points, bumping that up to 19.3 per outing in playoff games.

His election to the Hall of Fame was due in large part to his showmanship. Hawkins was the first player to demonstrate the style, flash, and cool that were trademarks of later players such as Julius Erving and Michael Jordan. His enshrinement also acknowledged that not all of the greatest basketball was played on the NBA courts. Some of the most poetic ball was played in dimly lit recreation center gyms and on blacktop courts with chain nets. That's where Connie Hawkins really built his reputation. By the time he finally made it to the NBA, he had just enough juice left to prove that, yes; the things they said about him were true.

For Hawkins, the honor was a dramatic vindication. He had always maintained his innocence in the betting scandal and had conducted himself without rancor once he was allowed into the NBA. The phone call in 1991 that brought the news that he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame came at 8:30 one morning. "After I realized what the call was about, I cried," he told writer Don Williams at his induction. "I think maybe I've grown an inch or two this past week."


JOHN BUDKE: At a game in Indianapolis we saw the Pipers play the Pacers. Art Heyman was kind of a flake and when the introductions were made he ran out on the floor and there were a lot of boos. He just smiled put out his arms with his palms up and motioned for us to give him more. We did and he just thought it was great. This was one of several times I saw the great Connie Hawkins play. He had such huge hands and long arms and was such a great ball-handler from his globetrotter days that he was something to see. He had a good outside shot but would also drive in with those great one-handed finesse moves. One play I will never forget is when he got out on a fast break with the ball, Charlie Williams, who was very fast came streaking down the court and Connie hits him with a behind the back pass for a lay-up.

AARON MILLS SCOTT: I have an ABA memory, but it isn't mine. I'm only 22 so I never saw any of the games. But my dad tells a great ABA story every chance he gets. My dad saw Connie Hawkins play during the one year he was with Minnesota. My dad lived in Minneapolis and he was one of the very, very few people who ever gave the ABA the credit and attention the league deserved. The Pipers' attendance was just terrible in Minnesota, even by ABA standards. During one game, Connie made a play that my dad swears is the best he's ever seen, on TV or in person. One of the Minnesota guards went down the lane and missed a floating lay-up. The ball went off the back rim and headed back out toward the foul line. The Hawk was working hard on the boards and he went up to get it. Connie (my dad swears) jumped up, grabbed the ball in one hand, and was actually MOVING AWAY FROM THE BASKET. So he now had the ball way up high in one hand as he drifted AWAY from the basket (while facing it). Then he jammed it straight down. Even hearing the story awes me. He had such long arms, huge hands, and such great body control. My dad insists that people would and should be talking about the Hawk along with Wilt, Oscar, and Michael as one of the very greatest players of all time. I sure wish I could have seen that play in person. It probably wasn't even filmed. It's too bad most of the video of Connie comes from his Phoenix Suns NBA days. He simply wasn't the same great player he was in the ABA.

MEMORIES OF THE HAWK       From “Loose Balls” by Terry Pluto

Connie Hawkins was a playground legend from New York City who led Brooklyn’s Boys High to two consecutive city titles. He grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. His mother was blind and on welfare. After an intense recruiting battle, he signed with the University of Iowa, but never played a varsity game. After his freshman year, he was banned from college competition because of his alleged association with gamblers. While he was never convicted of anything, he also was banned from playing in the NBA, and even the Eastern League, which was a forerunner to the CBA. He played in 1961-62 with the Pittsburgh Rens of the old American Basketball League, where he averaged 27 points and 13 rebounds. He was the league’s MVP at the age of 19 and made $5,000. The ABL folded 14 games into the 1962-63 season. He then played for a while with the Harlem Globetrotters, but didn’t enjoy it. When the ABA began, the 6-foot-8, 215 pound Hawkins was 27 years old and he needed work. So he jumped at a chance to sign with the Pittsburgh Pipers, who gave him a $5,000 bonus, a $15,000 salary for the first year and $25,000 for the second, with the option of becoming a total free agent at the end of the second season. Obviously, Hawkins had a lawyer masterminding this deal; it was David Litman, who was also suing to have Hawkins reinstated by the NBA.

JIM O'BRIEN: The move that made the Pipers franchise that first year was signing Connie Hawkins. Connie had played for the Rens, but after the ABL went under, he was hanging around Pittsburgh, playing in an industrial league at the Young Men’s and Women’s Hebrew Association for a team called the Porky Chedwicks, where admission was 50 cents a night. In the summer of 1967, Connie had no money; he was living in a row house on the North Side of Pittsburgh. The place was in pretty bad shape. Connie was married, had a couple kids, and also was looking after his wife’s brother, who was mentally retarded. He had just about hit bottom.

JERRY HARKNESS: I can recall seeing Connie while still in high school play against a team of pros that included Wilt Chamberlain, and Connie held his own. In high school he was already the greatest talent I had ever seen. When he played with kids his own age, it was ridiculous. He just toyed with them. He was already as good as the pros when he was 16. He had those huge hands and he could do anything he wanted with the basketball. Then came the scandal and suddenly he had no place to play—no place until the ABA came around. Then it was the same thing, like it was when he played against the high school kids on the playground—he was so great, he could just control the game without breaking a sweat. Everyone who knew basketball knew about The Hawk, and the knew it galled him not to play in the NBA.

RON GRINKER: I had a friend named Barry Kramer, who was a star basketball player from New York, and he played briefly with the Nets in 1969-70. I went to see him at a summer game at Roosevelt Field in New Jersey; there was an outdoor basketball court near a baseball field. Word was that Connie Hawkins would play, but the game began and he wasn’t there. It was getting dark, and late in the first quarter, Connie came out of one of the baseball dugouts. He didn’t even have his basketball shoes on. He sat down in the on-deck circle to put on his tennis shoes, and the people hanging around already started chanting, “Hawk, Hawk, Hawk.” There were a lot of legends in the game, like Roger Brown. Just looking at Connie, I had a feeling that he had had a few drinks and he obviously wasn’t thinking only about basketball, because he had shown up late. But he got in the game and the first three times he touched the ball, he went coast-to-coast and then executed three different dunks. The court was getting a little wet because of the night dew, but he seemed to glide over it and slam. People watching it were going crazy, calling his name. It was one of those experiences I only had heard about, the kind of thing that made Connie Hawkins a legend.

STEVE JONES: The Hawk gave our league instant credibility and brought us a lot of attention. For years, everyone had heard how great this guy was, but very, very few people ever saw him play. Well, the ABA became his first stage. An t the thing was that Pittsburgh had a lot of talent, Connie just cruised during much of the regular season. He was maybe three levels above everyone else, so he could take it easy and still get his 25-30 points and 10-12 rebounds every night. He was good people. He just wanted to play ball and to get along with the other guys. He was doing things with the basketball, with those huge hands of his, that people had never seen before. Just about all the stuff Julius Erving did palming the ball, Connie did first. So that first year, I don’t think The Hawk ever let himself go until the playoffs; then he showed that he really knew how to carry the load of a team on his back.

CHARLIE WILLIAMS: Connie deserved a lot of the credit for making us into a team. Let’s face it, he was a tremendous, overwhelming talent. He could have decided he was going to average 50 points a game and been able to do it. But he loved and understood team basketball. He would get on Chico Vaughn and myself not to shoot so much from the outside. But he wouldn’t say, "Get me the ball." He’d say, "Let’s move the ball around. Let everyone touch it." People wanted Connie to shoot the ball more. I know George Mikan (ABA Commissioner) told him to do that.

No matter what Mikan or anyone wanted, Connie knew how the game was supposed to be played and he talked a lot about passing and defense. He was a true student of the game. He’d say to me, "Hey Charlie, watch me close tonight. See if you can find something to make me better." When a guy of Connie’s ability says that to you, it makes you look at your game in the mirror, too. He really was a leader, and by the end of the year, guys got the message. Tom Washington was our center and he knew he was there to rebound, so he went after every rebound and then threw the outlet pass t the guards. Chico Vaughn was hitting from the outside. Art Heyman would come off the bench and not just shoot, but he was passing, too. In the first round of the playoffs we blew out Indiana in three straight. Then we faced Minnesota in the second round and took four of five from them.

In the finals, we had to play New Orleans. Those guys were good—with Doug Moe, Larry Brown and Jimmy Jones—and they got up 3-2 on us, with a chance to win the title in Game 6 in New Orleans. I was matched up with Larry Brown, who at 5-foot-9 was the only guard in the league smaller than I was. I started posting Larry up and Connie took over the game. He just wouldn’t let us lose. I had 32 points and 10 assists, which was really gratifying to me because Larry Brown had been the MVP in the All-Star Game and some people thought he was the league’s best point guard. Connie had 41 points and we won 118-112. He did it against Doug Moe, who was the best defensive forward in the league. To win on the road like that, before a sellout crowd in that little gym at Loyola of New Orleans, really was amazing.

After that game, a crazy thing happened with Art Heyman. This fan had spit on Art and he punched the guy. Art was in our locker room changing his clothes when the New Orleans police came in and arrested him. We were all staring at Art, wondering how could this guy get in trouble with the copes in the middle of a championship playoff. It turned out that the fan had some sort of physical problem and he didn’t intentionally spit on Art, and when Art decked him a complaint was filed. Art apologized and patched things up, so the charges were dropped.

So we went home for Game 7. Art was out of trouble and I just knew that we’d win. We had won the series in Game 6 in New Orleans when we didn’t fold. When we took the floor, we couldn’t believe all the fans in the stands. Most of the time we had been playing before 2,000 at home. But we had a sellout (11,457). The fans were noisy and we jumped out early and stayed in control the whole game. (Pittsburgh won 122-113. Williams had 21 points in the first half, Tom Washington had 27 rebounds and Hawkins had 20 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists.)

After the game was over, it was very emotional in the dressing room. Remember, we were guys who were cut by the NBA, or guys denied the chance to play in the NBA, or guys who had been branded head-cases. In one way or another, all of us had been rejected, and we had gone out and won a championship. Tom Washington was so happy that he just broke down and cried. He was leaning on Connie’s shoulder, crying like a baby. A number of us sat there saying, "We did it," over and over. It was something special, to be the first champions in a new league. They gave us each a little trophy, and our winner’s cut of the playoff money was $2,200.

MEL DANIELS: Connie Hawkins was our first true star, in the sense that he was a great player whose style attracted a lot of attention, yet he also played an all-around game. The guy who didn’t know basketball that well could look at Connie for 15 minutes and know that Connie was great. Then a guy who was a basketball person could watch Connie and see the subtle things—his passing, how he blocked shots and rebounded and knew how to help out his teammates on defense. I am convinced that the Connie Hawkins that led Pittsburgh to that first title could play in the NBA and be on the same level as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan are today. The Connie Hawkins that eventually got into the NBA was nearly 30, he had a couple of knee problems—it wasn’t the same guy.

BOB BASS: Those who say that Connie was the first player to really show what it meant to have huge hands and palm the ball are right. He’d get a rebound, hold it in one hand and then throw it the length of the floor. The basketball looked like a softball in his hands. He and Charlie Williams had a great play. Connie would get a rebound and Sweet Charlie—that was Williams’s nickname—would be on the wing. Connie would fake a pass to Charlie—I’m talking about a one-handed pump fake like a quarterback—and Charlie would run downcourt, catch a long pass from Connie and make a layup. Name one guy who can execute a fast-break pass like that today.

CHARLIE WILLIAMS: Connie would hold that red, white and blue ball in one hand and start waving it around. He told me that it was one of his old Globetrotter routines. His hands, his sense of style, and that red, white and blue basketball were made for each other.

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