Former Suns great Connie Hawkins dies at age 75

Connie Hawkins, left, with Bill Russell in a 1999 file photo.
AP

PHOENIX — Basketball Hall of Famer and Phoenix Suns legend Connie Hawkins died Friday at age 75.

Hawkins, who had been implicated in a college basketball gambling scandal, was originally banned from the NBA and began his career in the American Basketball Association. After the ban was lifted, he joined the Suns as a 27-year-old rookie in 1969 — their second season — and earned All-NBA honors, averaging 24.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.

Hawkins, a 6-foot-8 forward, played five seasons for Phoenix and averaged 20.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. He worked with the franchise in a community relations position for many years after his retirement. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.

” ‘The Hawk’ revolutionized the game and remains to this day an icon of the sport and one of basketball’s great innovators. His unique combination of size, grace and athleticism was well ahead of its time and his signature style of play is now a hallmark of the modern game,” the Suns said in a prepared statement.

“He helped put Phoenix on the map as the city’s first professional sports superstar. Rightfully, he became the first Suns player inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and his No. 42 hangs in the rafters at Talking Stick Resort Arena as part of our Ring of Honor.

“Connie’s passion for the game was only matched by his desire to give back to the Phoenix community, a role which he played proudly as a Suns community ambassador, spreading warmth and kindness to everyone he encountered. We will miss Hawk dearly. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends as we mourn the passing of a true Suns legend.”

Hawkins grew up in Brooklyn and was a schoolyard legend who ruled the asphalt playgrounds.

He was a decent shooter, but he was at his masterful best should anyone attempt to cover him one-on-one. He would blow by defenders and finish at the rim with breathtaking wizardry or a thunderous slam. Before there was Julius Erving, Hawkins produced his own brand of basketball theater, although he played before decidedly smaller houses.