Hawkins, Cornelius L. ("Connie")
HAWKINS, Cornelius L. ("Connie")
(b. 17 July 1942 in New York City), professional basketball player who was blacklisted by the National Basketball Association (NBA) due to false allegations about his involvement in a point-shaving scandal; star performer for the Harlem Globetrotters, the Pittsburgh/Minnesota Pipers, and the Phoenix Suns.
Hawkins was one of six children born to Isaiah Hawkins, a day laborer, and Dorothy Hawkins. Hawkins's father abandoned the family when Hawkins was about ten years old, and his mother supported her children as a cook in a day nursery, despite suffering from glaucoma that eventually produced blindness. The family lived in a run-down flat near an elevated railroad line in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York City, a neighborhood in the process of becoming one of the most notorious slums in the United States. As a youth Hawkins survived on the streets, heeding his mother's stern admonishment to avoid street gangs and criminal behavior. Instead he thrived on public playgrounds, becoming one of the city's legendary street basketball players (he is generally considered to be one of the greatest playground players in city history). Hawkins dunked his first basketball at age eleven as a star at Boys' High in Brooklyn, and was named to Parade Magazine 's High School All-American first team in 1960.
Standing a lithe six foot, eight inches tall at 215 pounds, with enormous hands attached to long arms, Hawkins possessed great jumping ability, extreme quickness, and excellent peripheral vision, and he was one of the nation's most highly recruited high school players in the spring of 1960. Because his academic record was extremely poor (standardized tests showed he had an IQ of less than 75 and the reading skills of a seventh grader), Hawkins received a certificate of attendance from Boys' High indicating that he had attended for four years but had not met the academic requirements for a regular diploma. After much deliberation, Hawkins opted to attend the University of Iowa where a lucrative deal arranged by athletic officials with a local booster seemed most attractive.
When he entered Iowa in 1960, Hawkins starred for the freshman team and attracted unusually large crowds by putting on a dazzling show during warm-ups, when he would simultaneously palm two balls and in one leap slam-dunk them both. However, unusual circumstances prevented him from ever playing at the college varsity level. In April of his freshman year Hawkins was implicated in an unfolding point-shaving scandal being investigated by the New York City police under the supervision of crusading District Attorney Frank Hogan. Gamblers who were pressured to produce names in return for prosecutorial leniency named Hawkins as one of the players involved. He was held in custody and grilled for fourteen days without the benefit of legal counsel, all the while protesting his innocence. The naive nineteen-year-old eventually agreed to confess, he later said, because "I'd never get out if I kept telling the truth." Ultimately, he was not charged in this major scandal, but his name was mentioned in the indictments of others as an alleged intermediary between other players and gamblers. The University of Iowa swiftly dismissed him from school.
Eventually it came to light that Hawkins had been identified because he had accepted a $200 gift from the notorious fixer Jack Molinas to pay for an airline ticket to Iowa City. At the time, Hawkins did not know of Molinas's un-savory character or his record of having been booted out of the NBA in 1954 for betting on the games of his own team, the Fort Wayne Zollner (now Detroit) Pistons. Hawkins simply remembered Molinas as "a nice person," not unlike the many hangers-on who were part of the New York City playground basketball scene. From prison, Molinas released a signed affidavit stating that although he had intended to use Hawkins in future point-shaving schemes, he never had done so, and that Hawkins was unaware of his plans.
Formally barred from college basketball and blacklisted by the NBA, Hawkins entered an eight-year period of wandering in basketball's wilderness. He played for the Pittsburgh Rens in the ill-fated American Basketball League (ABL) for two years (1962–1963) and then joined the Harlem Globetrotters. In 1967 he joined the Pittsburgh Pipers of the new American Basketball Association (ABA). Despite a painful knee injury, Hawkins averaged twenty-six points per game, led the Pipers to the league title in its inaugural season, and was named the ABA's Most Valuable Player. The following year, the Pipers moved to Minneapolis where Hawkins played for one season. In both 1964 and 1965 Hawkins made himself available to the NBA draft, but no team selected him. When the NBA formally barred him in 1966 for his involvement in the Molinas case, he filed an antitrust suit against the league, and the suit slowly made its way through the federal court system. Finally, in June of 1969, the NBA offered Hawkins a $1.3 million settlement and agreed to drop its ban against him.
Hawkins began his "rookie" season in the NBA in 1969 with the Phoenix Suns, who won his contractual rights in a flip of a coin with Seattle. He quickly became one of the league's outstanding players. Fans appreciated his flamboyant style of play, and many youngsters attempted to grow huge sideburns that became part of his NBA persona. Hawkins played five seasons with the Suns and was the first member of the expansion team to be named to the All-NBA First Team (1970). He played with the Los Angeles Lakers from 1973 to 1975 and retired in 1976 after one season with the Atlanta Hawks. During his NBA career, Hawkins averaged sixteen points and eight rebounds per game.
Hawkins and his wife, Nancy, who married in the late 1960s, raised two children and settled in Phoenix, where he worked for the Suns as a community relations representative and continued to live once he retired. The Suns retired his number 42 in 1976, and in 1992 Hawkins was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
With a playing style that often included enormous swoops to the rim followed by a monstrous slam dunk, Hawkins brought the "above the rim" game to modern basketball, paving the way for such later stars as Julius Erving and Michael Jordan.
Much of the Hawkins saga can be found in the excellent journalistic account by David Wolf, Foul! (1972). See also an extended segment on Hawkins in Richard O. Davies, America's Obsession: Sports and Society Since 1945 (1994); and Randy Roberts and James Olson, Winning Is the Only Thing (1989).
Richard O. Davies