Connie Hawkins endured one of the greatest wrongs ever set upon a basketball player. The NCAA, NBA, and New York City’s justice system ran Hawkins through the mud, sullied his reputation, and did their damnedest to ruin his basketball career in the early 1960s. It was all a part of a sanctimonious effort to purge Jack Molinas, fixed games, and gambling from basketball, but Hawkins was merely an innocent fish caught up in the drag net.
This fish was saved by Pittsburgh, though.
In 1961, Harlem Globetrotters owner Abe Sapperstein created the American Basketball League (ABL), and thus the Pittsburgh Rens were formed as a member of the new circuit. Hawkins would clearly be the dominant player in the ABL. In the 1961-62 season, Hawkins led the ABL in scoring with 27 points a game and was named MVP. The league, never on sound financial footing, folded midway through the 1962-63 campaign. Sapperstein, however, snagged Hawkins from the wreckage and signed him to a deal with the Globetrotters.
From 1963 to 1967, Hawkins toured the world with the Globetrotters displaying his legendary athleticism. However, the ‘Trotters were no longer a serious outfit. Hawkins plotted his re-entrance to the world of competitive basketball. Suing the NBA for $6 million and reinstatement, Connie would eventually settle the case in 1969 and became an NBA All-Star four times before retiring in 1976.
Fittingly, Hawkins played for the Phoenix Suns, but the Hawk’s true rise from the ashes occurred in the ABA.
Awaiting the results of his lawsuit, Hawkins left the Globetrotters in 1967 and became a member of the newly-formed ABA’s Pittsburgh Pipers. Just like his stint with ABL’s Pittsburgh squad, Hawkins was named league MVP and won the scoring title. This time however, he took his ball club all the way to the Finals and defeated the New Orleans Buccaneers in a thrilling 7-game series in which all games were decided by less than 9 points.
The next season (1968-69), the Pipers moved to Minnesota, but Hawkins’ knees began to show signs of strain that would ultimately undermine his career. Playing in only 47 games due to surgery, Hawkins’ Pipers backed into the playoffs but put forth a strong effort. The Miami Floridians, in the semi-finals, finally dispatched the Pipers in a high-scoring seventh game that ended 137 to 128.
Hawkins’ ABA days were over and he jumped ship to the NBA. Finally, after nearly a decade, the mainstream of basketball witnessed what had been unfairly denied. The Hawk razed the NBA with his swooping dunks, elongated turnaround jumpers, soaring rebounds, pin-point drop-off passes to cutters, and acrobatic layups. He ball-faked opponents by swinging the ball around like a grapefruit in his hands. Indeed, his massive hands were likely the most impressive thing about Hawkins. He could manipulate the ball however he pleased with his talon-like grip.
But this was an old bird in flight. Hawkins was already 27 when he joined the NBA and after years of playground ball on bad courts, doing Globetrotter stunts, and just the natural wear-and-tear that comes with age, the man was eroding. He truly enjoyed only three great NBA seasons before tailing off.
If this were solely an NBA Hall of Fame, Hawkins would struggle to make the cut. But the National Basketball Association did nearly all it could to deprive Hawkins, fans, and themselves of the talents Hawkins possessed. Fortunately, Connie was an undeniable man and found every which way he could to right wrongs.
And since this is not an NBA but a Professional Hoops Hall of Fame, the Hawks flies in easily all day, every day just like he did for the ABL, the Globetrotters, the ABA, and finally, the NBA.
Seasons Played: 1962 – 1976
All-ABL 1st Team (1962)
Finals MVP (1968)
2x All-ABA 1st Team (1968-’69)
All-NBA 1st Team (1970)
4x All-Star (1970-’73)
ABL - 94 Games
27.2 PPG, 13.2 RPG
PPG Leader (1962)
ABA - 117 Games
23.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 51.5% FG, 76.5% FT
PPG Leader (1968)
NBA - 499 Games
17.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 46.7% FG, 78.5% FT
Contemporary ABA/NBA Ranks (1968 – 1976)
10th FTs Made, 33rd FGs Made
23rd Rebounds, 35th RPG
22nd Assists, 29th APG
20th Blocks, 15th BPG
38th Games Played, 21st Minutes Played