NBA History: The Atlanta Hawks (Part 4)

Read what led the Hawks to this point by clicking on the link to Parts One, Two, & Three below.

Part: 1 | 2| 3| 4

Things quickly shifted from the mindset of needing to rebuild before Lou Hudson’s prime to a crisis mode though, when Zelmo Beaty decided he wanted to make a jump to the ABA’s Utah Stars when they offered him more money than Atlanta was paying him.

The Hawks sued, and, while the lawsuit was going on, Beaty wasn’t allowed to play for either team.

Which meant the Hawks would be just on the brink of making the playoffs that year. Or at least they should have been. But every major piece of that team stepped up. Hudson became a full-fledged 25 ppg scorer and Joe Caldwell put up an all-star-worthy season.

Even Walt Hazzard, who went back to using his birth name after he quickly got tired of the grief he was getting from fans for his conversion to Islam, had a considerable improvement, and the team inexplicably stood at 26-15 halfway through the year.

Knowing that he’d have to compete with the Lakers again,  coach Richie Guerin needed to find a replacement for Beaty before the trade deadline so in came Walt Bellamy from a perennially-struggling Detroit.

With Bellamy now joining and a growing chance of losing the Beaty case, Guerin had to make a choice, and he decided he didn’t trust in their chances of winning or that the ABA would be short-lived enough to get him back still in his prime, so he put Beaty on the trade block. A day after the Bellamy trade, he found an offer for Beaty. The Warriors were already in a position where they needed to hope the ABA would fail soon, with team star Rick Barry playing there at the time, so they were willing to take a chance and trade their first-round pick to Atlanta for Beaty’s rights.

With Bellamy in the middle, it solidified that they were contenders still and a 21 point win over Boston late in the season really made that reality.

They beat the Bulls in five without any challenge whatsoever, and with Caldwell, Hudson, and Hazzard all averaging well over twenty points a game.

Next up: Those hated Lakers that they haven’t been able to get past for almost a decade. This year that streak didn’t end. West averaged 34 points. The Hawks got swept.

Three more teams were added to the league after the year and with them came the division system and a move to the East for Atlanta.

Also, it was finally ruled that Beaty could play in the ABA, and that led to a further exodus that saw Caldwell follow him to the more glamorous league at the time.

It turned out that the pick they’d got from San Francisco was top three though, and this looked like a very good draft, so Marty Blake was hopeful they could rebuild quickly with a good draft night.

With that Warriors pick they brought in the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer in Pistol Pete Maravich, and later on in the draft selected Manuel Raga and Dino Meneghin from the champions of Europe, Varese. Neither player ever played in the league, but they were the first two players drafted from a foreign league and began the influx of international talent to the NBA.

After the draft, the Hawks lost one more member of the team to the ABA, as even GM Marty Blake, who’d built all of the contending team’s they’d had over the last decade, was named President of the Pittsburgh Condors.

As the season got underway, Maravich proved to be a flashy player to an extent that the NBA had never seen before. His style was a fierce contrast to that of more conservative play by Hazzard and Bellamy, but he and Hudson were a pretty unstoppable scoring duo.

Although the team appeared to work on paper, it just really didn’t, and they fell down to a losing record. They unrightfully snuck into the playoffs only because of the new rule that the top two teams from each division made the playoffs.

That still meant they’d face the top-seeded defending champion Knicks, who they didn’t have a prayer of beating. Or did they?

Atlanta stole homecourt advantage after shocking the Knicks in Game 2 in New York thanks to a 35 point game by Sweet Lou. After that, though, they fell apart and couldn’t quite do enough to win any more games, although they kept games 5 and 6 close. It came down to just not having quite enough stamina to keep up, as Guerin failed to trust his bench this year to a near-historic extent, only playing 7 different players in the whole series, but it was an admirable series from the team nonetheless.

Wanting to come closer to contending, with a solid core in place, the Hawks signed Julius Erving away from the ABA. The problem was, well, there were lots of problems… Dr. J was still eligible for the draft somehow so the Bucks drafted him weeks later, and he was also still under contract with his ABA team the Squires. He played for Atlanta during the preseason but the NBA fined them the maximum amount for a fine every game he played, and they gave up trying to keep him after about a month.

Trying to mold the team more to fit Maravich’s style of play, Guerin traded away Walt Hazzard to Buffalo for a less ball-dominant PG in Herm Gilliam, and then also quickly sent away Bill Bridges and his hustle play for Jim Washington, a face-up shooting big that could help space the floor better.

Oddly, it had the exact opposite effect on Maravich as expected, and he struggled all year long, only putting up 19 points a game, while Hudson’s scoring averages fell too. Bellamy, with his cookie cutter old-school big man style being exactly what the team was trying to shift away from, ironically had a resurgence and had the best season he’d had in half a decade, becoming a true focal point of the team for the first time.

With this shift in how the team played turning out the exact opposite as Guerin hoped, the team didn’t improve at all and finished with the exact same 36-46 record.

Faced up against the top seed again, this time the Celtics, Maravich finally made the system work and the series basically turned into a shootout between duos of Maravich and Hudson, against John Havlicek and Jo Jo White.

This led to blowout losses in Boston and a couple close wins for the Hawks at home, and in Game 6, Atlanta quickly fell behind. But they battled back and Maravich had one of the best games of his career so far, exploding for 37 points. They never could quite get back into the game though, and Hudson’s series low 18 points wasn’t enough help for Maravich as they lost by six and lost the series.

With two losing years in a row despite multiple all-star talents on the team, management found it to be time for Guerin to go, and he was out as coach.

It was a good time for the transition anyways, as the Omni Coliseum had finally finished being built and they were moving into their own stadium for the first time since moving to Atlanta, after four years playing on Georgia Tech’s court.

As Guerin’s replacement, the team brought in Cotton Fitzsimmons, who’d managed to overachieve with the Suns the two years before, and was starting to gain plaudits around the league.

Fitzsimmons had come specifically because he wanted to coach Maravich, and he had a very set idea of how he wanted to use him. Fitzsimmons embraced a run-and-gun style to showcase Pistol Pete’s crazy skillfulness, and it worked to a T.

Hudson and Maravich both bounced back from off-years and combined to average 53 points a game, plus Bellamy’s effectiveness was barely compromised and he still averaged 16 and 13 of his own right. With help from Herm Gilliam’s defense at the point guard position, they improved considerably without any major roster changes.

But they still had to get by those pesky Celtics. And the series threatened to devolve into another shootout between those same duos as last year, with Havlicek dropping 54 in a 134-109 walloping of Atlanta in the first game… And to an extent it was; in every game, there was a 30+ point performance from one of that four. The difference in the series this year was the impact that Dave Cowens made, and his averages of 19 points and 20 rebounds gave Boston enough of an advantage to repeat their six-game win from the year before.

Hoping to build off that year’s success, Fitzsimmons had the 9th and 10th picks in the draft to help them improve. Filling a hole that will certainly need filling soon with Bellamy now turning 34, they picked a pair of bigs hoping one of them will be good enough to replace him. They picked Dwight Jones from Houston and John Brown from Missouri. Neither ever became starters, let alone a replacement for Bellamy.

And he was really beginning to need one. His rebound average fell below ten after getting 13 every year since joining, and he barely registered half a block per game. While Bellamy’s role was decreasing, there wasn’t really anyone to pick up the slack and that was bad for the team.

Without a real threat in the paint, that allowed defenses to collapse on Hudson and Maravich and it slowed down their offense a bit, as well as making them less efficient.

That didn’t slow down Pete as he scored the second-most in the league, but the team struggled all year long and missed the playoffs by quite a margin.

The year was rightfully branded a failure, and it didn’t help optimism in the organization that they lost Bellamy to the Jazz in the expansion draft.

The Jazz weren’t done yet though; they wanted a superstar, and New Orleans sent the Hawks two players and five picks for Maravich. The Hawks were willing to accept the trade after missing the playoffs the year before, and that officially started rebuilding mode again in Atlanta.

Piling things on even more, with the team already in a pretty bad position, 11 games into the year, Lou Hudson broke his elbow, and wouldn’t return all year.

At this point, Hawks games pretty much became a garbage-time-fest, and there weren’t many positives at all.

Although there was one. Second Round pick John Drew got a lot of time in a small-ball lineup as an undersized 4, and on this bad team he got the opportunity to show he was one of the league’s premier offensive rebounders as a rookie, as well as a bit of a scoring threat.

That didn’t change the fact that the season was a lost cause and rebuilding the team would take a while, though.


Part: 1 | 2| 3| 4

NBA History: The Atlanta Hawks (Part 3)

Read what led the Hawks to this point by clicking on the link to Parts One & Two below.

Part: 1 | | 3 | 4

The next season the team struggled from the get-go. The defense was one of the worst in the league and they had lots of issues with injuries.

Clyde Lovellette missed over half the season with injuries, and his backup Larry Foust missed 23. Between their two point guards that had been sharing playmaking duties, Johnny McCarthy broke his leg and missed almost the whole season and Lenny Wilkens had a military commitment that made him miss all but 20 games.

Paul Seymour was sacked after a 5-9 start to the year and replaced by Andrew Levane, who had almost ruined the team as coach back in Milwaukee, and he hadn’t improved since then.

The whole season for the Hawks became Pettit trying to carry the whole team, with Hagan, now on the wrong side of thirty, starting to decline, and no other help at all during the 60 games Lenny Wilkens was gone. When he was there though, Wilkens was starting to look like he could be a star, as he averaged 18, 7, and 6.

Long story short, Levane didn’t even last the whole year and the Hawks missed the playoffs for the first time since Bob Pettit’s rookie year.

After the year, Lovellette was gone, sold to the Celtics, and in as his replacement at center was someone Marty Blake was obsessed with, but who was considered by most a massive reach for the third pick, in Prairie View A&M star Zelmo Beaty.

The team tried out Pettit as player/coach but he just wanted to play so they gave the coaching job to former Knicks star Harry Gallatin. Noticing that a now-30 year old Pettit was still by far the best player on the team but was beginning to lose some athleticism, Gallatin slowed down the pace to be easily the slowest in the league.

Cliff Hagan was now nowhere near the same player he had been a couple years prior, now only averaging 15 point a game, but Beaty filled the role he was needed in as a strong back-to-the-basket complement to Pettit. Wilkens was back full time but took a step backwards, returning to stats closer to that of his rookie year.

Somehow things fell together though and they shot back up to the second seed in the west. Gallatin won Coach of the Year, Beaty made All-Rookie First Team averaging 10 and 8, and Pettit returned to fourth in the MVP voting after finishing outside the top five for the first time in his career the year before.

They headed into the playoffs as contenders again, but had to play in the first round against the Pistons instead of getting a bye through the round. The Pistons didn’t pose a real threat, and Pettit played some of the best basketball of his career, averaging 36 and 17 in the series to help dispose of Detroit in 4.

They then played the Lakers to battle for a spot in the finals again, and kept the series close throughout. There was a difference between this matchup and the previous ones though. Now it wasn’t just Pettit vs Elgin Baylor. Now Baylor had help. Jerry West’s star had begun to shine this season, and though Baylor was still definitively the star of the series, West helped push the Lakers over the top as they held off the revived Hawks in Game 7.

Encouraged by their rejuvenated performance that year and knowing that Pettit was nearing the end of his prime, Gallatin kept the core of the team together but knew he also needed to add a two-guard that could counter Jerry West.

He shipped out a second round pick and some cash to New York for the Knicks’ star Richie Guerin. Guerin was past his prime at this point but still easily an above-average SG.

The team thrived with the addition of Guerin, and Pettit, Hagan, Beaty, and Wilkens all had more efficient seasons than they’d ever had before. Pettit was in the top five in both points and rebounds for the tenth year straight, Hagan bounced back a bit from his previous year, and Beaty developed further quite nicely too.

They finally overtook the Lakers’ record, but the Warriors had relocated to San Francisco the year before and beat the Hawks’ record by two games.

This meant the Hawks had a matchup with L.A. in the first round. Both Pettit and Baylor failed to dominate the series as much as they had in previous matchups, and West was the real star of the series, but it didn’t matter. After both teams swept their home games, Wilkens and Hagan went off for 30 and 29 points respectively and won St. Louis the series, meaning they were set for a matchup against Wilt Chamberlain’s Warriors, coached by Alex Hannum, the guy who’d led the Hawks to their title in ‘58.

Things were looking up when Guerin scored 32 in the first game en route to a close win, but Wilt never let the Hawks get too far ahead, and he finished them off in Game 7, dominating Pettit for a 39-30-6 night and getting to his first finals matchup with Bill Russell.

After this loss, Gallatin realized this was really the last chance for the team to contend, as Pettit wasn’t outperforming the league’s best players like Wilt and Russell anymore. He tried to bring someone new in, but it was to no avail; Marty Blake’s contacts couldn’t find anybody that they thought would fit with the team.

Going into the season Gallatin made the decision to relegate Hagan to be used as firepower off the bench, starting young Chico Vaughn in his place to infuse some youth into their lineup.

Vaughn didn’t provide too much more of a spark to the team, but Wilkens and Beaty were both now entering their prime and when Pettit started having recurring knee problems through the season they were there to pick up the slack.

By New Years Day, Gallatin was gone, and Richie Guerin was made player-coach for the rest of the year. Despite an average start, Guerin led the team to a 28-19 record the rest of the year.

In the playoffs they were set to face off against a Baltimore team that wasn’t expected to give them much of a threat. It ended up being the other way though.

Pettit’s body wasn’t holding up from the knee injuries, and his production was literally halved for the playoff series. Despite Beaty’s best efforts putting up 19 and 14, Wilkens had shooting problems as well, without a fit Pettit in the post to distract from him, and the Bullets won three games to one.

After that loss, what happened was exactly what Hawks fans had feared for the second half of the season. Bob Pettit decided his body couldn’t handle the wear and tear anymore and retired.

Bill Bridges, who’d stepped up in Pettit’s absence with injury the year before, was made his replacement at the four and would go on to put up a very respectable 13 and 12.

At that same time as all this, Ben Kerner had been noticing that the Kiel Auditorium had become even more worn down and was trying to find a new arena. Over the offseason he began negotiations with the city to get a new stadium funded for the team.

The season surprisingly started off okay. The team was clearly Beaty and Wilkens’ team now, and those two kept them hovering around .500.

After a December losing streak though, Hagan told Guerin he’d be hanging it up after the season. Guerin quickly acted to bring in a replacement so he wouldn’t have to on short notice in the offseason, and brought in Joe Caldwell from a frankly bad Pistons team.

Beaty’s All-Star-worthy 21 and 14 per game led the team to scrape into the playoffs by one game, and earn a revenge series against the Bullets.

And this time they were ready to be without Pettit. What they weren’t ready for? Bill Bridges coming out of nowhere to do his best Pettit impression and average 24 and 19 as they swept the Bullets.

This set up another series against the Lakers, and though they quickly fell behind 3-1, they came back to force a game 7, as Guerin turned back the clock to average 20 points and 8 assists in the series. Heroics from him and the Big Z were still just not quite enough though, as West and Baylor ran wild in Game 7 and managed to win the Lakers the game and the series.

Over the summer Hagan retired as promised, and Guerin found himself lucky enough to have Lou Hudson, a small forward like Hagan who was thought to be the draft’s top prospect until a senior year injury, fell to them at number 4.

Having Hudson on the team turned out to be really important, as Beaty missed almost half the year with a knee injury and they would’ve surely missed the playoffs without Hudson.

Off the court, Kerner was told by the city that they wouldn’t fund a new stadium, as the local hockey team, the Blues, had renovated their St. Louis Arena, but Kerner wasn’t interested in sharing an arena, so he started looking for someone to sell the team to. In January of 1967 he held talks with a consortium led by talk show host Morton Downey Jr. with the intent of moving the team to New Orleans, but the deal fell apart.

Bill Bridges, coming off an insane run in the playoffs, earned himself a spot in the All-Star Game with averages of 17 and 15, but Hudson and the injured Beaty slightly outscored him.

With strong postseason performances from Wilkens and Hudson they swept the expansion Bulls in the first round but Rick Barry’s offense proved to be too much for them in the second round.

As the offseason began, there was a bit of an odd problem. There were two new expansion teams in the league and one of them, the Seattle Supersonics, selected Richie Guerin in the expansion draft. Which meant one team held his playing rights while another had him under contract as a coach.

Guerin decided since he was coming toward the end of his playing career soon anyways that he would retire as a player, and subsequently try to, over the course of the year, come to an agreement with the Sonics on a way to get his full rights back to St. Louis.

On top of that, Hudson was called into reserve duty for the military as the situation in Vietnam was escalating. Unlike players before him, Hudson was allowed to commute to the team to play for almost half their games, but since he couldn’t practice, he struggled and fell down to an average of 12 points.

Which meant other players really needed to step up. And they did! Beaty recovered from his injury nicely, and him and Wilkens both played all 82 games in what was the first ever 82 game season.

They easily took charge of the team and really made it theirs. Beaty returned to some of his best form like from a couple years before, and Lenny Wilkens for the first time became a 20 point per game player, as well as 5 rebounds and 8 assists which put him third in the league at the time.

Bridges and Paul Silas, who stepped in for Hudson when he wasn’t there, both easily averaged double-doubles at the forward positions, and Joe Caldwell, that guy Guerin brought in a year and a half earlier to replace Hagan, who’d really just been a role player so far, stepped up and added 16 points a game of his own right.

They got off to an unexpected quick start of 16-1, and with three all-stars in Beaty, Wilkens, and Bridges, plus Guerin earning Coach of the Year, they ended the year on top of the west, and for the first time since 1950 they had a better record than their rival Celtics too.

Which meant they came into the playoffs expected to go far, and maybe get into the championship. But they had another thing coming to them. Despite a 46 and 22 explosion from Beaty in Game 2, they couldn’t figure out how to defend Jeff Mullins all series and quickly fell behind 3-1 after he hit a clutch shot in Game 4. They gave themselves a chance after winning by 26 at home but they couldn’t quite put it off and went home disappointed against San Francisco.

Or well, rather, they went to a new home disappointed. In April, Kerner found a new buyer and the new owners immediately moved the team to Atlanta, where they’d become the only NBA team in the Deep South.

Good news would come as Hudson was allowed to come back to the team full-time, and the team looked like they’d stay near the top of the league with his return.

Three days before the start of the year, Wilkens was traded, in an attempt to reinvent the team for its new fan base. He went to Seattle in exchange for Walt Hazzard (or Mahdi Abdul-Rahman as he went by at the time), who had broken out as an all-star in the Sonics first year in the league the year before, and the rights for Guerin to be able to play again.

It quickly became apparent that that trade was a bad idea, as Hazzard’s stats in Seattle had been grossly inflated by the team being so poor, and Guerin didn’t really play much of a role on the court for the team anymore, while Wilkens put up his best numbers yet in Seattle.

Beaty put up his ever-reliable 22 and 11, and Caldwell kept up his production from last year, but also while shooting over 50% from the field, crazy for a shooting guard at the time.

But this was the year that Sweet Lou Hudson made it known that from now on this is going to be his team. Back and able to practice again he made a giant leap forward, going from 13 points and 4 rebounds to 22 points and 7 rebounds, and making the all-star game for the first of six straight years.

Without Wilkens they made an expected fall from first to second in the West during the season, although they did have a nice 12 game winning streak in December that helped their case as fringe contenders.

They got a relatively easy matchup against the Rockets in the first round, and the two teams matched up well.. Neither team won a game by more than eleven points, and if Rockets center John Block hadn’t missed the decisive game 6 that Atlanta won by two, it surely would’ve been a 7 game series.

Up next would come another conference finals against the Lakers.

West, Baylor, and Wilt were all over thirty so it was in their best interest to keep the pace slow, and they did. The league average that year was 112 points per game, and neither team ever scored more than 104.

Beaty and Hudson individually had a good series, especially considering they were matched up against Wilt and Baylor respectively, but they had no help. Nobody else scored over 12 points a game that series.

The Hawks went home after five short games, knowing they needed to rebuild before they could truly contend again.


Part: 1 | | 3 | 4

NBA History: The Atlanta Hawks (Part 2)

Read what led the Hawks to this point by clicking on the link to Part One below.

Part: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

With all this losing, at this point the team had no fans, and with an actual future ahead for once, Kerner didn’t want to run into more financial problems and have to sell Pettit and Selvy for table scraps.

So he decided to move the team yet again, and he thought there would be a good market for a team in the (somewhat) south.

Against the advice of absolutely everybody he consulted with, he moved the team to St. Louis, a city that lost their previous basketball team, their baseball team, and their hockey team in the few years before.

Somehow though, the Hawks caught on really well in the city, as Pettit became a full-fledged superstar and quickly became the best player in the league.

His partner in crime Selvy, though, had injury problems at the start of the year before deciding to enlist in the army mid-season and, like Jack Nichols before him, he left the team.

This time though, role players stepped up and Pettit found a post partner he worked well with in Chuck Share. Share was named team captain and quickly became a fan favorite for his hustle and passionate play.

The team was very streaky throughout the season, and at one point managed to go on a five game losing streak, followed directly by a nine game winning streak, and then a six game losing streak.

But Pettit would be absolutely dominant throughout the season, and that would stop their drought. He led the league in both scoring and rebounding, putting up numbers of 26 and 16. This season was the first year the NBA gave out an MVP award, and Pettit won it, becoming the first ever NBA MVP.

The team still didn’t do that great though, and they finished with the second worst record in the league – but they still made the playoffs, since there were only eight teams left in the league.

They went up against the Minneapolis Lakers in the first round, which a couple years earlier would’ve been a death sentence, but with Mikan easily past his prime by now, playing his last season, the Lakers were now very much mortal.

In the first game the Hawks scraped by with a one point win, but they were destroyed in a hilariously awful showing in Game 2, 133-75, in the first ever 50+ point loss in NBA history. They somehow managed to turn it around though and won the next game by a point again, advancing past the round despite scoring 56 less points than the Lakers did.

They then went into the next round against the Pistons and shocked the world to win the first two games, but collapsed and lost the next three games to get eliminated.

And remember, despite almost making the championship, they were still terrible in the regular season and still had the second pick in the draft as well. They got lucky when the Royals, with the number one pick, drafted for need instead of talent, selecting Si Green and letting Bill Russell fall to the Hawks.

However, Red Auerbach was really high on Russell, and offered the Hawks a trade package they couldn’t turn down, bringing home perennial all-star and hometown favorite Ed Macauley as well as the rights to Cliff Hagan who had just returned from military service.

The Hawks had kept good relations with Auerbach since he’d left the team and agreed to the trade, believing it to be an improvement to both teams.

Despite the additions made in the trade, the team didn’t make as much of a step forward as they were hoping. Macauley and Pettit got in each other’s way a bit at the start of the season, as they were both ball-dominant face-up bigs, and Hagan struggled to earn playing time.

The team’s biggest struggles though were defensively, as they didn’t have an above-average defender at any position, so the decision was made to trade second round pick Willie Naulls, who looked like a steal but wasn’t really needed with Pettit and Macauley on the team, to New York for Slater Martin, the defensive-minded point guard that had helped lead the Mikan-era Lakers to four titles.

Martin shored up the defense to an extent but what he really helped with was establishing the role of Pettit as the team’s star and Macauley as more of a veteran presence second option. Their record started to improve, but after back-to-back losses a few games later, Holzman was fired as coach.

Alex Hannum, a rookie coach who’d played on the team the previous couple years, was given the reigns of the team as Holzman’s replacement.

He wasn’t expected to bring any immediate fireworks, and realistically he didn’t but what he did do was complete the culture change that the Martin trade had started, handing over the control of the team to Pettit and emphasizing more defense than Holzman had.

The team ended the year with a losing record of 34-38, but since this season was one of the most confusing years in NBA history, that losing record was actually somehow good enough to top the west!

Since they won the conference, they earned a bye through the first round, before easily disposing of the Lakers in a sweep, to face up against the Celtics in the Finals.

This seemed a fitting matchup, since Auerbach used to coach them (as the Blackhawks), Cousy and Russell had been drafted by the Hawks, and Hagan, Macauley, and Charlie Share had all been former Celtics.

By Game 1, it was already obvious that this would be a historic finals and the start of a rivalry, as Pettit’s 37 and 14 performance that night kept the Hawks in the game for what turned out to be a double overtime win for St. Louis, when role player Jack Coleman hit a shot from what would now be three point range with just seconds left in the second overtime to give the Hawks a 125-123 win.

Boston responded with a 20 point win in Game 2, but returning to St. Louis, the Hawks eked out another win before dropping two in a row to Boston.

In Game 6, with a chance for the Celtics to put them away, Hannum told them to tighten up the defense and take control of the pace of the game. This game led to some crazy stat lines, as Pettit ended the night with 32 points and 23 rebounds, and Hagan, in a rare start, put up 16 and 20. Still, the play of the Celtics’ star rookies, Russell and Tom Heinsohn had kept them in the game, and Cousy had a chance to win the series with 12 seconds left, but he missed a free throw line jumper. The Hawks gave Pettit the ball to take the winning shot.

Which he missed, but Hagan was down by the hoop for the buzzer-beating tap-in.

Which meant we were headed for a Game 7 at the Boston Garden, a game that was a perfect ending to the series. Despite struggles from Cousy and Bill Sharman on Boston’s end of things, a Tom Heinsohn explosion for 37 and 23 as well as an otherworldly 32 rebounds in a game for Bill Russell meant that wasn’t going to be easy for St. Louis even with Pettit and Hagan combining for 63 points and 35 rebounds. The Hawks would have a slight lead and the ball with less than a minute left, and Jack Coleman put up a shot that would have finished the Celtics off, but Russell blocked the shot, chased down the ball, and drove all the way down the court to score. The Hawks turned it over but then fouled Cousy, who choked and missed one of the free throws. Pettit then managed to draw a foul and sank both to send the game into overtime.

In overtime, the Hawks got into major foul trouble, and Hagan fouled out. Despite being without one of their playoff heroes the Hawks kept themselves in the game, and Coleman, who’d won Game 1 for them, forced another overtime with another clutch jumper. In the second overtime yet again it remained a super close game, until with seconds left, Macauley fouled Jim Loscutoff and had to leave the game. “Loscy” hit both free throws to put Boston up 125-123, and Hannum called a Hawks timeout.

With Macauley fouled out now, there were no active players on the bench to put in the game, so Hannum subbed himself in. The plan was he was going to inbound the ball to Pettit who would take yet another game-tying shot.

But Pettit couldn’t get open.

Hannum tried something very unorthodox, and chucked the ball off the front of the backboard toward Pettit, and somehow it made its way to the star man. He put up the off-balance shot for a third overtime, and… it rimmed out.

The Celtics were champions. The Hawks had been that close.

In the offseason Hannum wasn’t going to do anything drastic and kept the team together, knowing they would contend for a title again.

Frank Selvy would come back from the army over the offseason and return to the team, and he was going to be enough of a boost that they didn’t find it necessary to add anyone else.

Hannum had also grown confident in Hagan after last year’s postseason breakout, and moved him into the starting five, relegating Macauley to more of a sixth man role.

Well, while Selvy couldn’t find a role in the contending team and left midseason for Minneapolis, Hagan’s postseason breakout proved to not be a fluke, and he averaged 20 and 10 throughout the year.

The team hosted the All-Star Game in St. Louis this year, and they would have three men on the Western All-Stars, in Pettit, who went on to win All Star Game MVP on his homecourt, Martin, and now also Hagan.

The team posted such a regular season improvement actually that they had their first ever winning record, of 41-31, topping the west by the same eight game margin that their eastern rivals the Celtics won the east by.

Come playoff time, they were given no problems by the Pistons, as Pettit actually was able to take a backseat to Cliff Hagan who was on fire, averaging 31 points per game and leading the team in scoring in every game.

This set up another finals appearance against the Celtics, and they wanted revenge. They started off the series with a two point win just like the year before but Boston tied up the series in game two. Hagan continued his dominance and Boston didn’t have the wing defenders necessary to stop him.

To make matters even worse for Boston, in the fourth quarter of Game 3, Bill Russell badly sprained his ankle and missed the next three games. The backup center was a 33 year old Arnie Risen, who could not even come close to figuring out how to defend Pettit, and by the time Russell came back, the Hawks had a 3-2 lead in the series.

In Game 6 Russell came back but still looked badly injured and struggled on both sides of the ball. He only had 8 and 8, but much worse, he allowed Pettit to drop 50 and grab 19 boards over him. Though the Cousy and Sharman backcourt (and bad performances for the Hawks by Macauley and Martin) made it so the Celtics stayed in the game, Pettit was too much to handle, scoring 19 of the Hawks’ last 21 points and getting a title-winning tip-in with fifteen seconds left. For the first, and so far the only time, the St. Louis Hawks were the world champions of basketball.

The celebration didn’t last long though. A contract dispute between Ben Kerner and Alex Hannum led to Hannum leaving the team in May, just a month and a half after winning the championship.

His replacement, Andy Phillip, lasted just ten games, before Macauley quit playing to take the job. Macauley’s first move was to find a replacement for himself, and he consulted GM Marty Blake who made calls around the league and found that Clyde Lovellette was unhappy in Cincinnati, so Macauley quickly traded for him.

Lovellette happily took a backseat to Pettit and Hagan to help the team win, as he hadn’t won a title since his rookie year five years earlier.

It seemed to work, as Pettit had his best season yet and averaged 29 and 16 en route to his second MVP, Hagan’s stats went up as well, and the team’s record improved by eight games.

It looked like another easy road to the finals,with Hagan again catching fire in the playoffs, scoring forty in game 1, but what they didn’t count on was an injury to Slater Martin in the second quarter of that same game. Without Martin, the Lakers’ passing lanes were open and rookie Elgin Baylor actually outperformed Pettit as the Hawks slowly collapsed.

Over the offseason there weren’t many changes. The Kiel Auditorium was starting to be obviously outdated by now and Kerner spent a lot of money on reflooring the arena, so they didn’t have the money to spend to bring in a fourth star, which meant the team took a bit of a step backwards.

Martin was 34 now and no longer good enough to start for a contending team, but he had to anyways. Lovellette took more of a part in the action after last year’s disappointment, and Hagan had his best season ever.

The team took a small step backwards but still won the sorry Western Conference by sixteen games.

Emerging rivals Minneapolis struggled to a 25-50 record in the season, but still made it through the first round to face the Hawks for the conference title. Baylor proved once again that he was the one power forward in the league that could outplay Pettit, and Martin, just like the year before, got injured early on in the series (although it’s not like his 8% shooting percentage through the first three games would’ve helped them for the rest of the series).

The Lakers got out to a 3-2 lead, but the Hawks came back and won the last two games, partially thanks to a near-triple double in game seven by Si Green, the backup PG that took Martin’s place in the lineup.

In the finals they again meet up with the Celtics, and despite Hagan and Pettit’s best efforts, they can’t ever get control of the series because without Slater Martin they don’t have a point guard that can control the tempo. They lasted seven games but were easily disposed with in a 19-point loss in Game 7, where Russell had 22 points and 35 rebounds.

Disappointed by the team’s failure to win a second title under Macauley, Kerner moved Macauley to the front office so he could bring in a veteran coach in Paul Seymour from the Nats.

Slater Martin retired after the finals loss, meaning the team would need a new point guard, and Marty Blake selected for the team Lenny Wilkens from Providence College.

Si Green moved back to his natural SG position and became a consistent starter for the team, and Wilkens shared playmaking duties with Johnny McCarthy. Hagan’s role in the team declined a bit as him and Lovellette had very similar stats this year. Pettit was relied on more than ever this year, and he became the first player not named Russell or Chamberlain to average over 20 rebounds for a whole year.

The team had their first 50+ win season, going 51-28, while, for the fifth year in a row, no other Western Conference team finished with a winning record.

In the playoffs they faced the usual suspects. As always they went down 3-2 to the now-Los Angeles-based Lakers to start the series, and they needed an inexplicable 26 and 10 outburst from Woody Saulsberry, one of the most inefficient players in the league that season, to squeeze past L.A. by a point in overtime in game six, before winning game seven by just two.

They again faced the Celtics in the Finals but this year they couldn’t compete. Although Pettit and Hagan both averaged almost 30 points per game, Lovellette played through injuries all series and wasn’t his normal self, and the team in general struggled defensively and just couldn’t handle the Celtics, being dispatched in five.


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