PHOENIX (AP) — Connie Hawkins, basketball’s dazzling schoolyard legend who soared and swooped his way to the Hall of Fame, has died at 75.
His death was announced Saturday by the Phoenix Suns, the team with which he spent his most productive NBA seasons. The Suns told The Associated Press they confirmed the death with his family but did not disclose details.
Hawkins was born in Brooklyn, New York, where he ruled the asphalt playgrounds and tales of his basketball feats spread across the boroughs.
He was a decent shooter, but he was at his masterful best should anyone attempt to cover him one-on-one. He would blow by defenders and finish at the rim with breathtaking wizardry or a thunderous slam. Before there was Julius Erving, Hawkins produced his own brand of basketball theater, although 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 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 not directly implicated but his name became attached to others involved.
He signed with the Suns in 1969 and was an NBA All-Star for four straight seasons. His best season in the NBA was his first, when he averaged 24.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists. He also played for the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks before retiring in 1976.