Hawkins soared, when allowed
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Layups: More Info on Connie Hawkins
By Ron Flatter
Special to ESPN.com
March 29, 1970 - After waiting his turn to play in the NBA, Connie Hawkins faced a daunting task at the end of his first season with the second-year Phoenix Suns. In the first round of the playoffs, the Suns faced the Los Angeles Lakers of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
Anyone who thought Hawkins was some kind of minor-league wunderkind coming out of the ABA was proven wrong in Game 2 at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Against a front line of Chamberlain, Baylor and Happy Hairston, the 6-foot-8 Hawkins put on a dazzling performance. Racking up 34 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists, he led the Suns to a 114-101 upset that evened the series.
"That was the greatest individual performance I've ever seen," said Suns coach Jerry Colangelo.
Odds 'n' EndsHawkins' performance in Game 2 was the linchpin to financial success for the Suns, who returned home for Game 3 in front of the first sellout crowd in the young franchise's history.
While the Suns took a 3-1 lead in the series, the Lakers came back to win in seven on the way to the NBA Finals.
At 13, Hawkins was introduced to marijuana and at 14 he was drinking cheap wine regularly on Brooklyn street corners.
Hawkins wasn't an instant star at Boys High School, playing little as an emaciated 6-foot-3, 140-pound sophomore.
As a junior, Hawkins averaged in low double figures and helped Boys to an unbeaten season and the Public School Athletic championship. The New York Post named him All-City first team.
As a 6-foot-6, 190-pound senior, Hawkins averaged 25.5 points (with a high game of 60) and led Boys to its second consecutive unbeaten season and PSAL championship. He was hailed as the finest prospect to come out of New York City.
Despite having a seventh-grade reading-level and an IQ of 65, about 250 colleges sought Hawkins. Recruiters took him to dinner and slipped him cash or basketball tickets.
Before choosing Iowa, Hawkins was briefly considered by Kentucky. Reportedly, coach Adolph Rupp called a New York newspaper and asked, "This Connie Hawkins, would he be
white or colored?" When told Hawkins was black, Rupp
At Iowa practices, Hawkins, on the freshman team, outplayed varsity star Don Nelson, who would go on to play 14 years in the NBA.
While a freshman at Iowa, Hawkins needed money for school and borrowed $200 from Jack Molinas, whom he first met in the summer after graduating high school in 1960. Hawkins' brother Fred repaid the loan before the college basketball scandal broke in 1961.
Molinas said he never expected to see the money again and looked at it as a future investment. While in prison, Molinas said in an affidavit that although he intended to use Hawkins in his gambling scam, he never got to him.
Though eligible for the NBA draft in 1964, no team drafted Hawkins, though he had not yet officially been barred from the league. The NBA claimed it was a matter of coincidence, and that each team decided unilaterally it didn't want him.
Hawkins also wasn't drafted in 1965 or 1966. After the latter draft, the NBA Board of Governors voted to bar him.
Included in the $1.295 million settlement in 1969 of his anti-trust lawsuit against the NBA, Hawkins was to receive a $600,000 annuity starting at 45 and $250,000 in cash (half at once and the other half paid out over five years).
Hawkins represented perhaps the only coin toss the Suns would win in their first two years in the NBA. Phoenix lost the flip with the Milwaukee Bucks to determine the overall No. 1 draft pick in 1969, who would be Lew Alcindor. Hawkins went to the Suns only after they won a secret coin toss against Seattle. One Phoenix columnist called it "the greatest comeback in coin-flipping history."
Hawkins encouraged the ABA to look at his old New York rival Roger Brown, who was working the graveyard shift at a General Motors plant in the 1960s. Brown became the first player signed by the Indiana Pacers in 1967, and even though his name was cleared of any direct involvement in the gambling scandal, he never jumped to the NBA.
Hawkins was known not only for his huge hands, his big sideburns and his whirling-dervish moves to the hoop, he also had quite a sense of humor. Playing for the Suns, he once fell to the floor hurt. Or so it seemed. When trainer Joe Proski ran onto the floor to check on him, the Hawk told Proski, "I just wanted to get you some TV time."
Throughout his pro career, Hawkins wore the No. 42, which was retired by the Suns in 1976.
Hawkins was the first Suns player elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, in 1992.
Hawkins was presented a Harlem Globetrotters "Legends" ring during a ceremony before a Suns game in 1994.
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