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Remembering the late, great Suns forward Connie Hawkins

The Phoenix Suns lost a legend yesterday - one that should have been bigger than he ever was.

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While twitter may be a petri dish drowned in the cess pool of life on most days, it’s also the greatest way to share thoughts about a legend.

News broke yesterday that one of the greatest All-Time Phoenix Suns, forward Connie “The Hawk” Hawkins, has passed away at 75 years old just as the expansion team he led in 1968 enters it’s 50th NBA season.

I know you didn’t watch The Hawk when he played for the Suns back in the late 60s. He joined the expansion Phoenix Suns in 1968 when he was 25 years old after stints with the ABL, Globetrotters and ABA. He won MVP awards in both leagues, and was Dr. J before Dr. J.

Unfortunately, Hawkins had eight of his best years ripped from him for being wrongly implicated in a point shaving scandal in 1961. Despite obvious evidence to the contrary, his name wasn’t cleared by the athletic world until 1969, during which time he was blackballed by colleges and the NBA.

As it turned out, Hawkins never even knew about the point-shaving. He just had the misfortune of knowing some of those who did, and borrowing a couple hundred bucks at one point from the attorney at the center of the scandal so he could pay some school expenses. That $200 was even repaid back to the attorney before the scandal even broke. Hawkins, a freshman in college who wasn’t even ALLOWED to play for the varsity team when the point shaving was supposed to have occurred, still got blackballed by both the NCAA and the NBA even though he was never arrested or indicted.

The Suns were assigned the 25-year old Hawkins after he was finally cleared to play, and after winning a $1.3 million judgment in a lawsuit he filed years before against the NBA for wrongful banning. During his 8-year exile from traditional basketball settings, Hawkins spent a few years traveling with the Harlem Globetrotters and winning MVP awards with both the ABL and ABA.

In 1969, Hawkins dominated. He played 81 games and averaged 24.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. In the final game of his rookie season, Connie had 44 points, 20 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 blocks and 5 steals. He led the expansion Suns to the Conference Finals that year, going down in an epic series to the Los Angeles Lakers. For the series, Hawkins averaged 25 points, 14 rebounds and 7 assists per game.

Unfortunately, Hawkins experienced injury issues for much of the rest of his NBA career before retiring in 1975.

He did become the first Suns player to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and his #42 is up in the rafters at Talking Stick Resort Arena among the Suns Ring of Honor.

And he has remained a part of the Suns organization for a very long time. The Suns shared these comments on Connie today.

Connie’s passion for the game was only matched by his desire to give back to the Phoenix community, a role which he played proudly as a Suns community ambassador, spreading warmth and kindness to everyone he encountered. We will miss Hawk dearly. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends as we mourn the passing of a true Suns legend.

So you may not remember much about Connie Hawkins, who has lived quietly in the valley for decades before passing away yesterday.

But if you watch enough highlights, you will realize you missed out on a guy who could have rivaled Dr. J and other gravity-defiers of his day.

Local Suns player Alan Williams appropriately shared his thoughts on the passing.

For more on this awful 8-year black hole that ruined Hawkins career, read “Foul! The Connie Hawkins Story” - a great read on one of the greatest players ever to wear a basketball uniform.

This book is about a professional basketball player, Connie Hawkins, but it is also about American athletics. The hope and despair of the ghetto schoolyard, the cutthroat college recruiting, the camaraderie and dissension in the locker room, the gambling scandals, the blacklists, the legal battles - Hawkins has been through them all. For eight years, the graceful, 6'8" Hawkins was an outcast, playing in tainted obscurity, blacklisted by the NBA. As a frightened teenager, he had made false confessions - under police pressure - and was wrongfully implicated in a fixing scandal. David Wolf's magazine acticle dramatically cleared Hawkins in 1969. Foul! in Connie Hawkin's story, a meticulously documented, remarkably candid biography of one of our greatest athletes. A compelling portrait of a unique and perceptive black man, it is also a behind-the-scenes look at basketball.

Amin Elhassan said it right.

RIP Connie.

Sorry I didn’t get the pleasure of watching you dominate the NBA for decade or more.

Sorry for everything your life should have been, but never was. You deserved better.

Note to readers: If any of you can find the reportedly hilarious clip where Connie Hawkins appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1975 to play singer Paul Simon one on one on a basketball court, to the tune of ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’, please post it in the comment section.

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