Looking back into history is always a difficult task when answering questions of the “what if” sort. How do we tell what may have happened if a certain player did not get hurt, or did not get addicted to drugs? What if this team had picked that player in the draft instead? What if that shot rimmed out, or banked in?
In the case of Connie Hawkins, the question has to be asked, but can never be properly answered. One of the best young basketball prospects in the nation, Hawkins found himself caught up in the point shaving scandal that swept basketball in the 1960s and as such found himself banned from the NBA.
The terrible part of this story is that Hawkins, according to both his own testimony and all the available evidence, never once shaved points. There is no record of him accepting money to do so, or of it actually taking place. Instead Hawkins, as well as a few other players of his age, were blocked from the NBA.
The ABA’s formation was a major boon for Hawkins and his compatriots, allowing him to continue to ply his trade of basketball. In 1969, the lack of evidence and the major media coverage of the case led the NBA to settle the lawsuit Hawkins had brought against them and lift the ban. After proving himself to be one of the most talented players in the ABA, he joined the NBA in 1969 as a member of the Suns.
Hawkins would play just over four seasons with the Suns, already 27 by the time he made his NBA debut. He made the All-Star team all four seasons, averaging over 20 points per game during his tenure.
He helped lead the fledgling Suns to their first playoff berth in franchise history in 1969-70. That same year saw him be named to the All-NBA First Team. He put up 36.4 win shares in his time with the Suns, including a high of 10.2 in that standout 1969-70 season.
It’s both sad and exciting to think about what might have been if Hawkins had played a full college career before joining the NBA in his prime. Even with all the hurdles unfairly placed in his way, Hawkins eventually found his way to the league. He helped make an impact for the Suns in their earliest years as a franchise.