Connie Hawkins, have you ever heard of him?
I’m sure if you’re a sports enthusiast like myself you have. NBA Hall of Famer, Phoenix Suns all-time great. New York High School legend, 1960 Iowa recruit, outplayed Don Nelson…..wait, what??
In 1959, Despite having a seventh-grade reading level and an IQ of 65, about 250 colleges begged Connie Hawkins to come play for them. Hawkins, a 6’6, 190 lb. forward had led his high school team to 2 straight undefeated seasons and 2 state championships. Recruiters at the time were in love with him, often taking him to dinner and slipping him cash or basketball tickets.
Hawkins had a rough upbringing in the 1950’s in New York, 1 of 5 children to a blind mother, he would become a fixture on the street corner, smoking marijuana and drinking wine at the age of 13(ESPN Classic). Other than the street corner, Hawkins’ other sanctuary was the basketball court. Smaller as a kid he didn’t play organized basketball until he was a sophomore in high scool. With a growth spurt he quickly became dominant and made a name for himself.
Also relevant at the time was Iowa Basketball. (Not a joke)Under then coach Bucky O’Connor Iowa had made 2 Final Four Appearances and in 1956 played in the National Championship game, losing to Bill Russell and the University of San Francisco. Coach O’Connor died in a car accident in 1958 at the age of 45.
In 1959 former Iowa player Sharm Scheuermann became head coach at age 24. Scheuermann was a member of the Hawkeyes “Fabulous Five” in the 1950’s.(Yes Michigan we had it first) Scheuermann led Iowa for six seasons, compiling a 72-69 record before resigning at age 29 after the 1964 season.
Coach Scheuermann started his tenure with recruiting top prospect Don Nelson. He-then supplemented that with another grade A prospect--Connie Hawkins 2 years later.
Before choosing Iowa, Hawkins was briefly considered by Kentucky. Reportedly, coach Adolph Rupp called a New York newspaper and asked if Connie Hawkins was white or colored? When Rupp was advised that Hawkins was black, Rupp lost interest.
As a freshman at Iowa in 1960-1961, Hawkins did not play as a freshmen as freshmen did not participate in Varsity sports. At Iowa practices though, Hawkins outplayed varsity star Don Nelson. Nelson would later graduate from the University of Iowa in 1962 as a two-time All-American. He later became the NBA’s all-time winningest coach. Some declare him as Iowa's Greatest Basketball Player of All-Time.
While a freshman at Iowa, Hawkins needed money for school and borrowed $200 from a man named Jack Molinas, whom he first met in the summer after graduating high school in 1960. Hawkins Brother Fred, paid back the loan in 1961 but it was too late. Hawkins was linked to a point-shaving scandal involving New York City athletes and Molinas.
Despite the fact that Hawkins could not have been involved in point-shaving(unable to play due to being a freshman) he was kept from seeking legal counsel while being grilled by New York City Police Department detectives who were investigating the scandal. Hawkins never admitted to any wrongdoing.
As a result of the investigation, the University of Iowa expelled Hawkins despite him neither being charged nor arrested. No other college offered him a scholarship.
For the next few years he was not drafted into the NBA and became a traveler. Many feel this was due to the scandal but it could never be proven. Connie became a member of the Harlem Globetrotters from 1964-1966.
In 1969 he was drafted by the Phoenix Suns and led them to the Western Division Semifinals against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Suns lost the series 4-3 but it was Hawkins’ Game 2 that made the series. Hawkins had 34 points, 20 rebounds and 7 assists in the game against Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Not an easy task.
Hawkins was later selected into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1992.
Iowa Basketball did not really return to relevance until its Final Four journey in 1980.
As a Hawkeye fan it makes me ask alot of questions. I also understand maybe why Iowa has never been able to keep it's relevance as a basketball power. Do you think if Hawkins had been at Iowa for 4 years that other top named recruits would have followed??
On the New York City playgrounds and throughout his playing career Hawkins’ was more commonly known as “The Hawk.” I wonder if he ever really felt like one?
Joseph LarsenCommunity Contributor