Courier columnist Bill Neal recalls the life and legacy of Connie Hawkins
It was the summer of ‘75. I was coming off my four-year run at Slippery Rock University, sheepskin in hand and set to change the world. Homewood-Brushton YMCA Director Joe Lewis hired me as Program Director and asked me to create a program that would unite the community. Connie Hawkins, Kenny Durrett, Big Will Graham and Jumpin’ Jim McCoy were working out in our newly-built gym. I asked Connie if I could name a basketball league after him and this is how history was set in motion.
Admittedly, as a lifetime football player out of Penn Hills and “The Rock,” I had a lot to learn about constructing the next part of the Connie Hawkins legacy. It’s important to note that after getting his OK to use his name, Connie never asked a question or had a problem with how I ran the league and represented his name.
Connie Hawkins died Oct. 6 at age 75. But by now you certainly know that “The Hawk” was Brooklyn-born and is still recognized as one of New York’s all-time greatest schoolyard legends. After a series of events Connie migrated to Pittsburgh. Playing for the Pittsburgh Rens and then the Pipers. After a short run with the globetrotters and suing the NBA for a cool million and a half, Connie entered the NBA and played four all-star seasons with the Phoenix Suns. After a lot of points, dunks and high-flying moves, Connie joined his ranks in the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. To get the entire scoop read the book “Foul” by David Wolf.
A star-studded career to be sure. Most Valuable Player for the Rens at age 19 in the ABA— Pittsburgh Pipers regular season and playoff MVP—Pipers ABA Championship in 1968— led the ABA in scoring—four-time All-Star with the Suns—played with the Suns, Lakers, Hawks and Italy—first NBA season Rookie of the Year and First Team NBA.