Born: July 12, 1941 Position: Power Forward Professional Career:
St. Louis Hawks (NBA): 1964-’68
Atlanta Hawks (NBA): 1968-’69
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 1969-’72
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1972-’76
Denver Nuggets (NBA): 1976-’77
Seattle SuperSonics (NBA): 1977-’80
The Lowdown: Paul Silas was never much of a scorer, but his NBA career lasted 16 years thanks to his grinding defensive play and tireless effort on the boards. Silas was also heralded for the accountability he demanded from all teammates. He could begrudgingly forgive mistakes, but never a lack of effort. With this ensemble of talent, hustle, and personality, Silas carved out a place on two All-Star Teams and three NBA champions during his lengthy career. Continue reading →
Regular Season Record: 425-355
Regular Season Win Percentage: 59.9%
Playoff Appearances: 9
Playoff Series Wins: 8
Playoff Record: 47-43
Welcome to the Glory Days of the Hawks franchise.
Behind 1959 NBA MVP Bob Pettit, the Hawks made the playoffs every year in this period except in 1962. They made the NBA Finals four times squaring off with the Boston Celtics on each occasion. In 1957 and 1961, the Hawks barely lost in dynamic 7-game slug fests. In 1958, Pettit scored 50 points (including 19 of St. Louis’s last 21) in the decisive Game 6 to give the Hawks their only championship.
There was more to this club than the superb Pettit, however. Cliff Hagan roamed as his sidekick at forward flinging in his hook shot at will. In 1960, Pettit (26/17), Hagan (25/11) and Clyde Lovellette (21/11) became the only trio of teammates in NBA history to all average over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. At the end of this era, the buff and imposing Zelmo Beaty took over for Lovellette as the Hawks’ center. Reliable back ups in Chuck Share, Bill Bridges, and Ed Macauley provided these heavyweights with some in-game respite.
In the backcourt, Slater Martin was a defensive pest rarely seen. His reign of terror ended in 1960, but Lenny Wilkens picked up the slack as a floor general who unflappably delivered the ball to his high-scoring frontcourt.
The only thing that prevented the Hawks from enjoying even greater success in this period was owner Ben Kerner’s obsession with hiring and firing coaches. During this 10-year period, 10 different men served as head coach of the Hawks. Despite the revolving door of coaches, the St. Louis Hawks put together one of the best 10-year stretches in NBA history.
C – Zelmo Beaty (1962-’66) – 299 Games
15.4 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 46.4% FG, 73.5% FT
F – Bob Pettit (1956-’65) – 648 Games
27.1 PPG, 16.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 43.9% FG, 76.5% FT
F – Cliff Hagan (1956-’66) – 745 Games
18.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, 45.0% FG, 79.8% FT
G – Lenny Wilkens (1960-’66) – 395 Games
14.2 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.8 RPG, 41.4% FG, 74.5% FT
G – Slater Martin (1956-’60) – 248 Games
9.7 PPG, 4.5 APG, 3.7 RPG, 34.3% FG, 76.1% FT
C – Clyde Lovellette (1958-’62) – 245 Games
19.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 46.1% FG, 82.5% FT
G – Richie Guerin (1963-’66) – 215 Games
14.1 PPG, 4.8 APG, 3.3 RPG, 42.1% FG, 80.3% FT
C – Chuck Share (1956-’59) – 216 Games
8.3 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 40.9% FG, 68.7% FT
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
Regular Season Record: 404-415
Regular Season Win Percentage: 49.3%
Playoff Appearances: 7
Playoff Series Wins: 3
Playoff Record: 21-31
The Hawks bid farewell to St. Louis with one of their strongest seasons in years in 1967-68 by setting franchise records of 56 wins and a .683 win percentage. Unfortunately, in the playoffs, the Hawks were upset 4-games-to-2 by the San Francisco Warriors and exited their St. Louis era on a sour note. Under coach (and sometimes player) Richie Guerin, the Hawks kept chugging in Atlanta for the next two seasons with back-to-back 48-win seasons and appearances in the Western Division Finals.
The roster was in flux, however, throughout this period. Upon moving to Atlanta, the Hawks traded longtime point guard Lenny Wilkens to Seattle. Big and skilled center Zelmo “Big Z” Beaty left for the ABA. As did forward “Pogo” Joe Caldwell. The Hawks managed to keep a hold of “Sweet” Lou Hudson and added “Pistol” Pete Maravich in 1970. Still hanging on as well was a defensive mad man and tough as nails rebounder, Bill Bridges. In early 1970, making, up for the loss of Big Z, the Hawks traded for Walt “Bells” Bellamy.
The roster may have been in chaos, but at least all the players had splendid nicknames.
Added together, though, the moves were never truly enough to keep Atlanta a stalwart and they slid from the realm of contender. After 1970, the Hawks posted just one winning season (46 wins in 1973) in this period, although they made the playoffs seven times. The string of playoff appearances was more a testament to the imbalanced conferences than Atlanta’s own power. Their next winning campaign wouldn’t be until the 1977-78 season.
The Hawks waning fortunes at the end of this period leads to one of the great what-ifs in basketball history… What if Julius “Dr. J” Erving had played for the Hawks instead of the Virginia Squires of the ABA? Atlanta signed Erving to a contract in 1972, but ultimately the contract was ruled invalid. Erving’s brief stint in some exhibition games for Atlanta leave the tantalizing prospect of Pistol Pete, Sweet Lou, and the Doctor as true teammates only a fantasy for basketball and Hawks fans.
Ultimately, this period was one of transition and missed connections and chances. Through it all, Lou Hudson was the linchpin in this swirl of changes. He played every season of this era with the Hawks and cemented his status as a franchise legend.
C – Walt Bellamy (1970-’74) – 338 Games
15.6 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, 50.8% FG, 58.4% FT
F – Bill Bridges (1966-’72) – 419 Games
14.1 PPG, 14.4 RPG, 3.3 APG, 45.8% FG, 69.8% FT
F – Joe Caldwell (1966-’70) – 323 Games
16.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 47.7% FG, 62.5% FT
G/F – Lou Hudson (1966-’76) – 672 Games
22.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.9 SPG, 48.9% FG, 79.3% FT
G – Pete Maravich (1970-’74) – 322 Games
24.3 PPG, 5.6 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 44.8% FG, 80.9% FT
G – Herm Gilliam (1971-’75) – 280 Games
12.5 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 45.0% FG, 82.1% FT
G – Mahdi Abdul-Rahman (1968-’71) – 244 Games
14.3 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.7 RPG, 44.4% FG, 76.0% FT
C – Zelmo Beaty (1966-’69) – 202 Games
20.5 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 47.8% FG, 76.3% FT
Cliff Hagan possessed one of the greatest hook shots in basketball history. It wasn’t a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar skyhook that dropped in from the heavens. It wasn’t a George Mikan right-handed hook that was launched after his left arm pulverized you. Hagan’s hook was a spring-loaded catapult. He would gallop into the lane and jump as high as he could off of his left leg. His body stiffened into a straight rod and his right arm slung the hook at his apex.
That sweet shot allowed Hagan to play center in college Kentucky with enormous success. But when he got to the pros in 1956 after a two-year stint with the Army, the 6’4″ Hagan was declared too short to play forward, let alone center, in the NBA. St. Louis Hawks’ coach Red Holzman tried Hagan at shooting guard with disastrous results. A mid-season coaching change made Alex Hannum the Hawks coach. Hannum, instead of resisting the obvious, gave Hannum a shot at playing forward.
The results were tremendous when the postseason rolled around. After averaging just 5.5 points in the regular season, Hagan hooked his way to 17 points and 11 rebounds a night in the playoffs. His play helped lead the Hawks to the NBA Finals. Pitted against the Boston Celtics (the team that initially drafted Hagan but traded him for Bill Russell), Hagan had a magnificent, game-winning tip-in during Game 6 of the series. Nonetheless, the Hawks lost in Game 7 to the Celtics.
But Cliff Hagan had arrived.
In 1958, he along with Bob Pettit scorched the Boston Celtics for a six-game Finals victory avenging their defeat the previous year. Pettit had the ultimate climax with 50 points in the decisive Game 6, but Hagan proved equally indispensable as he led all playoff performers that year in points per game (27.7) and field goal percentage (50.2%) to go along with 10.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
For five straight years he was an NBA All-Star. He would also be named to the All-NBA 2nd Team twice. In 1960, the superb Hagan reached his apex as a star. That regular season he finished 10th in APG and RPG among all NBA players. He was also 9th in FT% and 5th in FG%. Naturally, he was also 5th in PPG.
In the 1963 season, however, the 31-year old Hagan transitioned from heavy work horse to instant offense machine. For the rest of his NBA career – lasting through 1966 – Hagan averaged 15 points in 25 minutes a game. His retirement from the Hawks following the 1966 campaign was short-lived.
The new ABA lured Hagan to their league with the opportunity to coach the Dallas Chaparrals. Hagan also suited up as a player for the Chaps and was named an ABA All-Star in 1968. The 36-year old legend averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 5assists proving his skills had aged but not eroded.
The same could be said of his competitive spirit. A soft-spoken, gentleman off the court Hagan was a hellion on the hardwood. He got into so many altercations, that Dallas management forced him to sit out games, but that lasted only so long. Cliff would put himself into a game if he thought it’d give the club the last push needed for success. So, what better way to conclude Hagan’s pro playing career than with a little story straight from Loose Balls told by Max Williams, general manager of the Chaps:
With 40 seconds left [in the game] I saw Cliff rip off his warm-ups and put himself into the game. Cliff cut across the lane, caught a pass and made that great hook shot of his. Then one of the Anaheim players jumped on his back and rode Cliff right to the floor. Cliff stood up, looked at the guy and cold-cocked him.
I thought, “He’s only been in the game for five seconds and he already punched somebody.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Cliff Hagan.
Years Played: 1956 – 1969
NBA - Champion (1958)
2x All ABA 2nd Team (1958-’59)
5x All-Star (1958-’62)
NBA – 745 Games
18.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, 45.0% FG, 79.8% FT
ABA - 94 Games
15.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 49.6% FG, 80.7% FT
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1956-57 through 1965-66 season)
6th Points, 18th PPG
5th FGs, 17th FG%
11th FTs, 19th FT%
13th Assists, 26th APG
15th Rebounds, 40th RPG
3rd Games Played, 8th Minutes Played
This past weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to Springfield, Massachusetts, for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Saturday afternoon, I was able to have a wonderful 10-minute interview with Knicks and Hawks legend Richie Guerin. He set Knicks records for points (57) and assists (21) in a game and remains the winningest coach in St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks history.
Guerin is a favorite here at Pro Hoops History and has had two features on his playing career. So definitely checks those out after listening to the man speak about his playing career, family, time as a Marine, and his years coaching the Hawks.