A lot of NBA and basketball fans have probably never heard of the name Connie “The Hawk” Hawkins, but that’s why I’m here to tell you about the career and life of one of the most underrated and misfortunate legends in the basketball world. From a legendary playground career, off-court troubles to an NBA career, Connie has faced many challenges in his life.
Numerous people remember Connie Hawkins as one of the legends of New York basketball, dominating the Rucker Park with his flashy style of play. He was often described by people who saw him play as a mix of Julius Erving, Elgin Baylor, and Michael Jordan. That made him a legend amongst the streets of Brooklyn and Harlem, as he brought popularity and attention to Rucker Park, making it a household court and home of NBA stars playing in the offseason.
Hawkins averaged over 25 points per game during his senior year in high school and got recruited by many prominent colleges. He would eventually commit to playing basketball at the University of Iowa. But it all went downhill after that. In 1961 a major gambling scandal would hit the NCAA, with numerous colleges being investigated for point shaving, suspecting players and referees of committing the crime. In the end, 37 students would get arrested, with Hawkins being amongst them. That led to him being kicked out of Iowa before playing a single game for them, even though he was never convicted for the scandal.
The only connection he had with the scandal was borrowing a small amount of money from a person involved in the point-shaving. But, unfortunately, nobody would believe Hawkins had anything to do with the situation, resulting in him being blackballed by the NBA and every college in the country. It would cost him his career, but he had to find other ways to play basketball.
From 1961-1969 Hawkins played in the ABA, ABL, and even for the Harlem Globetrotters before eventually managing to make the NBA as a 27-year old rookie in 1969. During his ABA days, Hawkins filed a lawsuit against the NBA for wrongfully banning him out of the NBA and settling the case, allowing him to join the NBA along with getting a $1.3 million compensation. But after numerous injuries and the best days behind him, Hawkins had little time to make an impact.
He started his career with the Phoenix Suns, playing four seasons and managing to make four All-Star games along scoring over 20 points per game. Most notably, he carried the Suns to a big playoff battle with the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers led by Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor. The series would go to seven games, with Hawkins giving it his all and dominating but not managing to will them through. He would also, later on, go to represent the Lakers and Hawks before retiring in 1976.
Hawkins didn’t have the most noteworthy NBA career, but if he entered the league younger and healthier, many people say he would have been one of the greats. He still managed to make the Hall-of-Fame in 1992, but more because of his off-court impact than his NBA career. A very unfortunate what-if story in which Hawkins got unfairly stripped of a much more remarkable career.