Conference Titles: 0
Division Titles: 0
Regular Season Record: 263-390
Regular Season Win Percentage: 40.3%
Playoff Appearances: 4
Playoff Series Wins: 3
Playoff Record: 11-12
Founded as the Buffalo Bison in 1946 in the National Basketball League, what is now the Atlanta Hawks performed quite the vagabond act during their first decade. Early in the 1946-47 NBL season, Ben Kerner moved his Bison franchise to the Tri-Cities of Illinois and Iowa, rechristening the team the Blackhawks. The club was a modest success in the NBL sporting an 85-83 record over three seasons and racking up two playoff appearances.
During the 1946-47 season, the Tri-Cities rostered William “Pop” Gates, an African-American player famous for his time with the New York Rens. Also on board was former New York Celtic and Fort Wayne Piston, Bobby McDermott. McDermott was hailed as the best long-distance shooter of pre-NBA basketball. The dominant force for the Blackhawks in these years, however, was 6’10” Don Otten who won the NBL’s MVP award in 1949.
Joining the NBA for the 1949-50 season, the Blackhawks spent two more mildly successful seasons in the Tri-Cities before moving to Milwaukee where the franchise became simply the Hawks.
They also simply stunk.
During their four seasons in Milwaukee, the Hawks never made the playoffs and “boasted” a win percentage of .324. During these years center Chuck Share and Mel Hutchins (one of the great defensive forwards of the era) were about the lone bright spots. Nonetheless, the situation was grim and dire as the franchise threatened to shut down. Fortunately, in the 1954 draft, a savior arrived in the nick of time.
Bob Pettit stormed the NBA winning Rookie of the Year for the 1954-55 season. The very next season he was named the league’s first MVP. Kerner – sensing Milwaukee was a lost cause – had packed up the Hawks and moved to St. Louis for Pettit’s MVP campaign. The Hawks’ fortunes seemed to immediately respond tot he change in scenario and Pettit’s greatness. Their 33-39 record in 1955-56 was their best since a 30-30 season in 1948. Although below .500, the Hawks sneaked into the playoffs, beat the Minneapolis Lakers, and barely lost to the Fort Wayne Pistons in the Western Division Finals.
With Pettit as the mainstay and savvy veterans like Chuck Share, Jack Coleman, Jack McMahon, and Alex Hannum, the Hawks were on the cusp of being perennial contenders. Armed with the #3 pick in the 1956 draft, the Hawks decided to swap the draft choice with the Boston Celtics.
Thanks to the exchange, the Hawks received Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley and would catapult to 4 NBA Finals and a championship in the next five seasons. The Celtics for their part got some rookie center named Bill Russell.
C – Don Otten (1946-’50, 1951-’53) – 295 Games
12.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 36.0 % FG, 72.1% FT
F – Bob Pettit (1954-’56) – 144 Games
23.0 PPG, 15.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 41.9% FG, 74.2% FT
F – Mel Hutchins (1951-’53) – 137 Games
10.5 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 3.0 APG, 37.3% FG, 65.0% FT
G – Frankie Brian (1950-’51) – 68 Games
16.8 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.6 RPG, 32.2% FG, 82.3% FT
G – Bobby McDermott (1947-’49) – 82 Games
10.6 PPG, 73.3% FT
G – William “Pop” Gates (1946-’47) – 41 Games
7.6 PPG, 52.2% FT
G – Dike Eddleman (1949-’52) – 182 Games
13.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 35.1% FG, 65.5% FT
C – Chuck Share (1953-’56) – 188 Games
12.4 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 41.2% FG, 70.2% FT