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Connie Hawkins

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Connie Hawkins

Connie Hawkins' career holds as much mystique as that of any other NBA Hall of Famer. A man of remarkable talent who played much of his career in the shadows, he didn't put up legendary numbers during his seven years in the NBA: only 16.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Nevertheless, Hawkins was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1992, an acknowledgment that he had been unjustly denied the opportunity to show his talent in his most productive years, and that most basketball fans had likewise been denied the opportunity to see the best that this innovative player had to offer. Most of what Connie Hawkins did was never caught on film. He was a New York playground legend who was exiled for years to exhibitions with obscure teams in half-filled arenas. Accounts of his finest moments circulated by word of mouth, and he never lost his hold on the imaginations of those fans who did catch him in his prime.

At age 19 he played a season for the Pittsburgh Rens of the American Basketball League and was named the league's Most Valuable Player. The best thing about the ABL, said Hawkins, was that it had a team in Hawaii. The ABL folded during its second season, and Hawkins circled the world with the Globetrotters for two years. It wasn't competition, but Hawkins needed the paycheck. "There was a chance that I couldn't have gotten a job at all," he recalled in 1992.

Hawkins played 70 games for the Pittsburgh Pipers in the inaugural 1967-68 season of the American Basketball Association. The ABA was a little flaky, but its teams did have a lot of great talent on their rosters. And unlike the Globetrotters, and to a large extent, the ABL, it was a bona fide professional league.

Hawkins led Pittsburgh to a 54-24 regular-season record and into the playoffs. The Pipers waxed the Indiana Pacers in three straight games in the opening round, then trounced the Minnesota Muskies, four games to one, to enter the first ABA Finals. Their opponent was the New Orleans Buccaneers. The New Orleans squad took a 3-2 series lead, but the Pipers regrouped to take the final two contests and claim the ABA Championship.

Hawkins led the league in scoring with 26.8 points per game and pulled down 13.5 rebounds per contest, second in the circuit to Mel Daniels of Minnesota. He shot .519 from the field, second in the ABA to teammate Tom "Trooper" Washington. Hawkins's numbers earned him the ABA Most Valuable Player Award for 1967-68. He was joined on the All-ABA Team by Doug Moe, Mel Daniels, Larry Jones, and Charlie Williams.

The next year the team moved to Minnesota, and Hawkins played about half of the season. In 47 games he averaged 30.2 points (second in the ABA to the Oakland Oaks' Barry) and 11.4 rebounds (fifth in the league), while shooting .503 from the field. He repeated as an All-ABA selection, joining Barry, Daniels, James Jones and Larry Jones.

The Pipers moved back to Pittsburgh for the 1969-70 season (and changed their name to the Condors the season

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