The Associated Press PHOENIX (AP) — Connie Hawkins, basketball’s dazzling New York playground great who soared and swooped his way to the Hall of Fame, has died. He was 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 point-shaving 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, “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 on July 17, 1942, in Brooklyn, where he could dunk by age 11 and ruled the asphalt playgrounds, 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 toured the world with the Harlem Globetrotters, then played two seasons in the ABA 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 eventually 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.
He was an NBA All-Star for four straight seasons. He also played for the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks before retiring in 1976.