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Connie “The Hawk” Hawkins was a New York playground basketball legend who eventually went on to have a NBA Hall of Fame career. The Brooklyn native died last Friday (Oct. 6) at the age of 75, leaving behind a storied career that should have been bigger than it was.

Hawkins was born July 17, 1942 in Brooklyn, New York, and dominated on the asphalt of the world-famous Rucker Park playground. Before the likes of Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Michael Jordan, Hawkins was one of the first “above the rim” players and considered one of the best one-one-one ball handlers to ever play the game.

While he wasn’t a top prep star in high school, Hawkins did secure a scholarship with the University of Iowa. However in 1961, Hawkins’ career was nearly derailed after a complex point-shaving scandal that he was unfairly implicated in.

As a result, professional teams refused to give Hawkins a chance to make their squad, although he was never charged or officially connected to any crime. Hawkins said that he and his family were unaware of how to  handle the situation at first.

After a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters, a MVP season with the ABL, and winning a title with the ABA’s Pittsburgh Pipers in 1968, the NBA finally settled on a $6 million lawsuit filed against the league and Hawkins landed a spot with the expansion Phoenix Suns team. For four straight years, Hawkins made the All-Star team, despite entering the NBA’s ranks at the advanced age of 27.

Humble yet self-aware, Hawkins said in interviews that had he been given the opportunity to play earlier that he may have been one of the top 10 to 15 players in the NBA. League experts agree that Hawkins was one of the most talented forwards to grace the hardwood, and was ultimately rewarded for his basketball prowess by being inducted into the Basketball Hall Of Fame in 1992.

Despite it all, Hawkins was never bitter about his experiences, something that Phoenix Suns former general manager and now owner Jerry Colangelo has repeatedly said about his former player.

PHOTO: Public Domain

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