Play­ground leg­end, ground­break­ing ‘Hawk’ dies at age 75

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - PRO BASKETBALL -

PHOENIX — Con­nie Hawkins, bas­ket­ball’s daz­zling New York play­ground leg­end who soared and swooped his way to the Hall of Fame, has died at age 75.

His death was an­nounced Satur­day by the Phoenix Suns, the team with which he spent his most pro­duc­tive NBA sea­sons in a ca­reer de­layed for years by a pointshav­ing scan­dal that led to the league black­balling him, even though he was never di­rectly linked to any wrong­do­ing.

The Suns did not dis­close the cause of Fri­day’s death. Hawkins, who lived in the Phoenix area, had been in frail health for sev­eral years and was di­ag­nosed with colon can­cer in 2007.

“We lost a leg­end,” said Jerry Colan­gelo, the Suns gen­eral man­ager when Hawkins played and later the owner of the fran­chise. “(He was) a player I had a very deep af­fec­tion for who kind of put us on the map.”

“The Hawk,” as he came to be known for his soar­ing reper­toire, was born July 17, 1942, in Brook­lyn, where he could dunk by 11 and ruled the as­phalt play­grounds, with tales of his bas­ket­ball feats spread­ing across the bor­oughs.

He was a de­cent shooter, but he was at his mas­ter­ful best should any­one dare to try to cover him one-on-one.

“One of the first play­ers to play above the rim,” Colan­gelo said, “and kind of set the tone for those who fol­lowed, Julius Erv­ing in par­tic­u­lar, in terms of charisma on the court and the abil­ity to do things on court.”

Hawkins would blow by de­fend­ers and, grip­ping the ball in one hand, fin­ish with breath­tak­ing wiz­ardry or a thun­der­ous slam, seem­ingly de­fy­ing laws of grav­ity.

“Some­one said if I didn’t break them, I was slow to obey them,” he once said.

Be­fore there was the per­sona of “Dr. J,” Hawkins pro­duced his own brand of bas­ket­ball the­ater, although for many years he played be­fore de­cid­edly smaller houses.

“‘The Hawk’ rev­o­lu­tion­ized the game and re­mains to this day an icon of the sport and one of bas­ket­ball’s great in­no­va­tors,” the Suns said in their state­ment. “His unique com­bi­na­tion of size, grace and ath­leti­cism was well ahead of its time and his sig­na­ture style of play is now a hall­mark of the mod­ern game.”

Hawkins toured the world with the Har­lem Glo­be­trot­ters then played two sea­sons in the Amer­i­can Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion and was the league’s Most Valu­able Player in 1968, help­ing the Pitts­burgh Pipers to a ti­tle.

He didn’t play in the NBA un­til he was 27, the league keep­ing its dis­tance be­cause of a col­lege point-shav­ing scan­dal in New York City while Hawkins was a fresh­man at Iowa in 1961. Hawkins was never di­rectly associated with the scan­dal and the prin­ci­pals al­ways con­tended he had noth­ing to do with it, but the NBA barred him none­the­less.

“It was to­tally dev­as­tat­ing,” Hawkins said in a 2009 in­ter­view with NBA. com. “I was in­no­cent, but no one would lis­ten to me. Plus, com­ing from a poor family, no one even thought about try­ing to get a lawyer to fight it. We just weren’t that so­phis­ti­cated.”

Hawkins sued the NBA for ban­ning him and, ac­cord­ing to his biography on NBA.com, reached a set­tle­ment of more than $1 mil­lion. Fi­nally, in 1969, then-com­mis­sioner J. Wal­ter Kennedy lifted the ban.

The Suns, a 1-year-old fran­chise at the time, se­lected Hawkins sec­ond over­all af­ter los­ing a coin flip for the rights to then-Lew Al­cin­dor, now Ka­reem Ab­dul-Jabbar.

Odds and ends

Dallas Mav­er­icks guard Seth Curry, 27, is out in­def­i­nitely af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with a stress re­ac­tion of his left tibia. The Mav­er­icks said no timetable has been set for his re­turn and he would be re-eval­u­ated weekly. Curry started 42 of his 70 games for Dallas last sea­son, and shot 43 per­cent from 3-point range while av­er­ag­ing 12.8 points per game. Dallas opens the reg­u­lar sea­son Oct. 18 against At­lanta. … The At­lanta Hawks waived guards John Jenk­ins and Jor­dan Mathews.

From wire re­ports

Con­nie Hawkins’ brand of ball took the game to new heights.

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