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Top 5 All-Time Atlanta Hawks
Posted By Joel Brigham On August 15, 2011 @ 12:00 pm In All,NBA | No Comments
Because it looks like we’re going to have plenty of time on our hands, I’ve decided to evolve my weekly Top 5 into something pretty consistent for the next several (30) weeks, taking a look at the top players from every franchise’s history.
This is probably going to spark a lot of debate, and I’m game for that. Hey, what else do we have going on in our lives right now?
As far as criteria is concerned, we’re looking at a number of things—championships, personal accolades, attachment to the community, and loads more—to try and determine who were the best players for each organization, ever.
I should note that, despite the fact that Hakeem Olajuwon was great and will undoubtedly be on the Houston list, he won’t be appearing on the Raptors list even though he’s probably the single greatest player to ever don that jersey. It’s about what they accomplished while they were there, not how great they were overall.
This week we’ll start with the Atlanta Hawks, since they’re the first franchise alphabetically, and we’ll eventually work our way through to the Washington Wizards.
For now, though, here’s my look at the top players in the history of the Atlanta Hawks franchise.
#5 – Dikembe Mutombo, Atlanta Hawks, 1996-2001
What he did for the Hawks: I think if we’re going to remember Dikembe Mutombo in any one jersey, it would probably have to be an Atlanta jersey. I mean, there’s that iconic image of him lying on his back after the first-round upset over the Sonics in 1994, but other than that a whole heck of a lot of his good stuff came as a member of the Hawks. Of his career eight All-Star appearances, four came in Atlanta. He won four Defensive Player of the Year awards, three as a Hawk. Four of his six All-Defensive Team nominations came while he played in Atlanta, as did two of his three All-NBA Team awards. In short, a good chunk of the amazing stuff he did as a pro happened while living in Georgia, and one of the best defenders the game has ever seen certainly deserves mention in any conversation for the best flock of Hawks in league history.
Worth mentioning: The finger wag he did after blocking basically everybody’s shot in the NBA came into its own as a trademark taunt while Dikembe was in Atlanta. That particular contribution to nonverbal trash-talking deserves a little bit of love, too.
#4 – Cliff Hagan, St. Louis Hawks, 1956-1966
What he did for the Hawks: The Hawks organization has only one championship, and Cliff Hagan was a huge reason that they won it. Actually, the Hawks won five Western Conference championships with Hagan and teammate Bob Pettit leading the charge, and that’s a level of success the franchise hasn’t come close to seeing since the 1960s. Not only is Hagan a Hall of Famer, but he was also a five-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA Team selection.
Worth mentioning: Because Hagan served in the Air Force for two years immediately after graduating from the University of Kentucky, he didn’t play in the NBA until his mid-‘20s. He was actually drafted by the Celtics, but was traded to the Hawks along with Ed Macauley for the draft rights to Bill Russell. As dominant as Hagan may have been in his day, and despite the Hall of Fame selection, trading away Russell can only be classified among the league’s all-time biggest “oopsies.”
#3 – Lenny Wilkens, St. Louis Hawks, 1960-1968
What he did for the Hawks: His best season arguably was 1967-1968, his last with the Hawks, when he finished second in MVP voting behind only Wilt Chamberlain. He attended five All-Star games as a member of the Hawks, and is the only person ever inducted into the Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. Considering he was involved with the Hawks in both of those ventures, he certainly deserves a mention here.
Worth mentioning: When Wilkens retired in 1975, he was second all-time in career assists behind only Oscar Robertson. Since that time, he’s dropped to 11th all-time, behind John Stockton, Jason Kid, Mark Jackson, Magic Johnson, Steve Nash, Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton, Rod Strickland, and Mo Cheeks.
#2 – Dominique Wilkins, Atlanta Hawks, 1982-1994
What he did for the Hawks: On the surface, it may seem sacrilegious that ‘Nique is only second on the list of the best Hawks of all-time, but when you read #1, you’ll understand. In the meantime, we need only look at Wilkins’ impressive resume to see why he’s a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s tenth all-time in points scored and field goals made. He was named to the All-Rookie Team and subsequently seven All-NBA Teams. Nine times he was chosen to play in the All-Star Game, and of course two of those times he won the slam dunk contest. He’s the franchise leader in Atlanta for games played, minutes played, field goals made, and points, and since he did all that during the highly-publicized Jordan Era, he’s easily the most well-known Hawk of all-time. The difference between him and the top guy on the list is the fact that #1 won a championship and ‘Nique never did. Still, his legacy and popularity in Atlanta is practically unparalleled.
Worth mentioning: Wilkins took his talents to Greece in 1996, where as a member of Panathinaikos won the Greek Cup and the Euroleague and was named the MVP of both. In 1999, his last season in the NBA, he joined his brother Gerald as a member of the Orlando Magic, one of the few times in league history that brothers have actually played on the same team.
#1 – Bob Pettit, Milwaukee Hawks, 1954-1965
What he did for the Hawks: What didn’t he do for the Hawks? Along with Cliff Hagan, Pettit was responsible for giving the franchise its lone championship in 1958, and he’s pretty easily one of the most prolific scorers in league history. In fact, he’s seventh all-time in scoring average and third all-time in rebounding average. In 1960-1961 alone he averaged 27.9 ppg and 20.3 rpg, one of the most impressive statistical seasons the NBA has ever seen. He was an eleven-time All-Star and an eleven-time All-NBA Team selection in eleven years in the league. He also won the Rookie of the Year award in 1955 and was a two-time MVP.
Worth mentioning: Pettit was the first player in league history to score 20,000 career points, and he holds both the record and second place for more rebounds pulled down in an All-Star game with 27 and 26 boards in 1962 and 1958, respectively. Only Pettit, Michael Jordan, and some gentleman named Alex Groza (who played for only two years) have scored 20 or more points per game in every single season that they played in the league. To summarize, the man was a stud. It’s a shame more casual NBA fans don’t know more about him.
John Drew, Atlanta Hawks, 1974-1982
What he did for the Hawks: Drew was a member of the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 1975 and was named to two All-Star teams, one in 1976 and the other in 1980. As a rookie he averaged 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds a night and was the top offensive rebounder in the league. He averaged over 20 ppg five times as a Hawk, making him plenty good enough to be traded to Utah for the draft rights to Dominique Wilkins. On top of everything else he did for Atlanta, he netted them ‘Nique.
Worth mentioning: He played three more years after the trade, eventually quitting basketball because of an addiction to cocaine. He’s reportedly a taxi cab driver in Houston now, and still holds the record for most turnovers in a regular season game (14).
Lou Hudson, St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks, 1966-1977
What he did for the Hawks: After averaging over 18 ppg as a rookie, Hudson was named to the All-Rookie Team in 1967, and his career as a Hawk after that point would do nothing but get better. He represented the Hawks in six All-Star Games and even was honored with one All-NBA Second Team nod in 1970. Part of Hudson’s legacy was his help in ushering the team from St. Louis to Atlanta in 1968. Sweet Lou helped make the team a staple in the ATL.
Worth mentioning: After retiring in the late 1970s, Hudson worked briefly as a radio commentator for the Hawks. The gig didn’t last long, but that certainly counts as one more contribution to the organization.
Kevin Willis, Atlanta Hawks, 1984-1994, 2004
What he did for the Hawks: While Willis played for eight different teams, including the 2003 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, the fact is that he played the strong majority of his career in Atlanta, where he was a beloved staple for the first decade of his professional playing days. His lone All-Star season (1992) was as a Hawk, and that was the same season he was voted to the All-NBA Third Team. His legacy is that he’s the franchise’s all-time leader in both offensive and defensive rebounds, and he’s actually fifth all time in total games played among all NBA players, ever.
Worth mentioning: When Willis played five games with the Dallas Mavericks in 2007, he became the oldest person ever to play more than one game in an NBA season. He was well into his 44th year of life at that point, besting Robert Parish, who played 43 games at age 43 for the 1997 Chicago Bulls.
Pete Maravich, Atlanta Hawks, 1970-1974
What he did for the Hawks: While Maravich had a great rookie season with the Hawks, averaging 23.2 ppg and making the All-Rookie Team, the fact that they won 12 fewer games than the season before drafting him didn’t really suggest great things to come for Pistol Pete in Atlanta. While he only got better and better in his four seasons as a Hawk, the team just didn’t get better along with him, and that’s why they traded him to the expansion New Orleans Jazz in 1974 for two players and four draft picks—quite a haul to get in return for just one guy. He did make the All-Star game twice and the All-NBA Team once as a Hawk, but he lasted a lot longer as a member of the Jazz, where he made three more All-Star teams.
Worth mentioning: Maravich died at age 40 playing pick-up basketball in California. It’s crazy to think that Kevin Willis still had four years left in him at the age that Pistol Pete passed away.
Mookie Blaylock, Atlanta Hawks, 1992-1999
What he did for the Hawks: With 2.3 steals per game, Blaylock is actually fourth all time in that particular category, which is a little surprising until you read that he had eleven top-ten steals per game seasons during his career and was named to six All-Defensive Teams, all as a member of the Hawks. He even made the All-Star team in 1994 and is the franchise leader for total three-pointers made and steals. He was a heck of a defender, certainly one of the best the franchise has ever seen.
Worth mentioning: The original name of the band Pearl Jam was, no joke, “Mookie Blaylock.” Once signed to a major label they were forced to change their name, but they still called their first album “Ten” as an homage to Blaylock’s jersey number. Unofficially, Mookie gave us Pearl Jam, and there’s certainly something to be said for that.
Since this is the first of many weeks in which we’ll be doing this, let me just say that if making these decisions is this hard, I can’t imagine how many players I’m going to have to look at for next week’s team, the Boston Celtics. There have been so many good players in the history of this league that narrowing it down to so small a sample is very difficult to do. Heaven help me as I spend the next seven days breaking down Beantown. Wish me luck…
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