Basketball is littered with guys who never reach their potential and often it’s their own fault. Think of Earl Manigualt or Raymond Berry, transcendent talents who couldn’t overcome the chaos in their own lives to fulfill their potential (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said that Manigault was the most talented player he had ever seen).
Some guys, like Greg Oden, would have been great but injuries interfered.
Some guys though, in one way or another, just get screwed and it’s hard to think of many who were screwed worse than Connie Hawkins.
Hawkins was a freshman at Iowa when the 1961 gambling scandal, which hit the ACC hard, broke. As a freshman, and ineligible to play on the varsity in 1961, Hawkins was nonetheless expelled. He was essentially blackballed in college and the NBA wouldn’t touch him even when he was eligible in 1964, when his class was eligible under the rules at the time.
So he spent several years with the Harlem Globetrotters and then some time in the ABA.
The NBA didn't accept him until 1969, when the league concluded it couldn’t beat his lawsuit. He was 27 at the time and when he finally arrived in the NBA, injuries limited him.
Even so, he was a three-time All-Star.
From the Globies to the ABA to the NBA, the Hawk showed a preview of basketball to come. He was Dr. J before Dr. J, George Gervin before George Gervin and Scottie Pippen before Scottie Pippen. He verged on positionless basketball too.
He played before video was an all day every day thing for basketball players but even so, in this clip you can see some of the joy he brought to the game in his aerial attacks and also that he kept a bit of the Globetrotters alive even when he reached the NBA.
He was a pioneer and a bit of a martyr and should be remembered.
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