Sunday, October 8, 2017

Connie Hawkins

It had to be before June 1959.  My dad left the city school system then to work in the suburbs.  But prior to 1959 he worked in PS 83 in Brooklyn.  After school he had a regular moonlighting job as an after school faculty presence in a gym somewhere in Brooklyn.  There, a number of aspiring high school stars would come to the gym to strut their stuff.

On one or two occasions I would be with dad at the gym.  It wasn't that close to where our apartment was, so I am figuring that these were days that nobody was around at home and dad drew the responsibility of watching over us.  I was 9, pushing 10, in June 1959 and by that time my folks did not worry about me getting into too much trouble, so I'm thinking it was probably 1958 when this incident occurred.

I was hanging around dad, probably bouncing a ball on the sideline watching the "big kids" playing on the court. Dad asked me if I wanted to meet Connie Hawkins.

I don't think I knew who Connie Hawkins was at the time.  But dad brought me over and Hawkins shook hands with me when dad introduced his kid to him.  I remember the guy's hands were just enormous. Afterwards, I probably said something to my father like "who is this guy." And dad told me that Connie Hawkins was probably the best basketball player in New York City.  Dad had gotten to know him from the gym and followed Connie Hawkins's games because of this acquaintance and Hawkins's fame. Plus Connie Hawkins played for Boys High, the school where my dad graduated from in 1940 or 41.

So, I started following Connie Hawkins. He was such a star that other teams would just hold the ball and try to stall the game in the years before a shot clock. I have a memory of a picture of an announcer allegedly falling asleep in the PSAL (Public School Athletic League) championship game because Columbus did not want to take a shot. The final score (which incredibly I remembered accurately--just checked on Google) was Boys High 21-Columbus 15.

Hawkins earned a scholarship to play basketball at Iowa. And then things went south. Hawkins was accused of shaving points in a gambling scandal. He was kicked out of school and banned from playing in the NBA.  I remember dad shaking his head sadly when he read that news.

But the facts came out subsequently. Connie Hawkins had not been involved in the illegal activity.  A terrific book, Foul, described how he had been inaccurately accused and inappropriately convicted.  Hawkins sued and was victorious. He got to play in the NBA, became an all-star and is now enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Connie Hawkins was Dr. J. before Dr. J. He defied gravity when he went up to shoot and, as my early introduction indicated, he had huge hands and could hold a basketball like it was a tangerine. Just a terrific player.

So I got a case of the blues this morning when I read that Connie Hawkins, at 75, passed away on Saturday.  Sad for Connie Hawkins; sad for me as it was yet another reminder that life is not infinite; and sad that I couldn't call dad and talk with him about the time he introduced me to Connie Hawkins at the after school program in Brooklyn.

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