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Connie Hawkins: A legend where the tall tales were usually true


It is a story Lou Carnesecca has probably told a thousand times by now, because Looie is, always was, one of the great curators and protectors of New York City…
It is a story Lou Carnesecca has probably told a thousand times by now, because Looie is, always was, one of the great curators and protectors of New York City basketball. The funny thing was, the longer the distance got between moment and memory, the better the story got.
Carnesecca was a young assistant for Joe Lapchick then, and like everyone else in the city, he’d heard stories about a kid from Boys High in Brooklyn named Connie Hawkins. But Looie hadn’t just fallen off the turnip truck from Queens, either. He knew, nine times out of 10, the stories don’t befit the reality.
Let him pick it up from here:
“So I finally want to see this Superman play with my own two eyes,” Looie said a few years back. “So Boys is playing Thomas Jefferson, and right at the start of the game here’s this beautiful kid blocking a shot, knocking it all the way to halfcourt. There’s six kids scrambling for the ball but he gets it, tips it forward, grabs it at the free throw line, and dunks it. I’d never seen anything like it before.”
Always he would pause the story here. And always the big finish:
“I ran out of the gym,” Carnesecca said, “and I didn’t come back.”
Hawkins never did play for St. John’s, opting instead to leave the city, play at Iowa, and in one of the great basketball tragedies he’d never play for the Hawkeyes, either. Back home, he’d befriended Jack Molinas, an ex-Columbia player heavily involved in gambling. That association alone was enough to keep him off the court in college, and banned from the NBA until 1969, even though it was never proven he’d ever shaved a point or had any hand in anything nefarious.
By then, by the time the Hawk — who died Friday at 75 — joined the Phoenix Suns, the tales of his legend had grown and grown, some of them true, some of them only partly true. The Hawk who arrived in Arizona was still a glorious player — as a 27-year-old “rookie” he averaged 24.6 points, made the first of four NBA All-Star teams, finished fifth in MVP voting. He was still great.
But the folks who saw him back in the day, they’ll tell you that was something to behold. As the great columnist and fervent basketball sage Bob Ryan has written: “Elgin Baylor’s playing vision begat Connie Hawkins, who begat Julius Erving, who begat Michael Jordan.”
That’s quite a lineage to live up to.
And by almost all accounts, it was entirely fair. There were dozens of games like the one Carnesecca described, some of them in high school gyms, some on Brooklyn playgrounds. There was one, on March 15,1960, that the old-timers still talk about. At night, at Madison Square Garden, in the NIT, when the NIT was king, there would be a terrific battle between St. Bonaventure (led by the Stith brothers, out of St. Francis Prep) and St. John’s.
But that was the after-card. Earlier, Boys High had played Wingate in a semifinal of the PSAL playoffs, Hawkins leading Boys, Roger Brown doing his thing for Wingate. Both players would soon be conjoined in similar muck, Brown finding at Dayton the same unfair fate that awaited Hawk at Iowa before becoming the greatest of all ABA players.
I met Hawkins once. This was maybe 10 years ago, in the coach section of a Phoenix-to-New York flight. There was a middle seat between us. I waited till we were in full descent, turned to him, held out my hand, told him how much I appreciated watching old tapes of him since I was too young to see it in real time.
We shook hands. I’m pretty sure they were the biggest hands I’ve ever seen.
“Bless you,” he said.
Bless you, Hawk. And Godspeed.
He’ll probably still hear it from most of the Yankee Stadium faithful on Sunday. But it’s hard to imagine someone more grateful for the advent of replay that Dan Iassogna, the home-plate umpire Friday night, who in another era would’ve needed disguises and stuff to properly navigate his stay in New York.
Did you happen to see that there was an actual Dumpster fire outside the Cleveland Browns stadium earlier this week? Sometimes comedy can just form out of a vacuum.
So far, so good for “The Deuce.”
Today might be a good time for the New York Football Giants to declare whether they intend to join the 2017 season or just write it all off a season-long bye.
Roland Chapdelaine: The highlight of the Mets’ 2017 season was watching Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling sift through old baseball cards! That could be a show in itself. Call it “Ten Memories a Minute!” Vac: It’s when the season ends, and you see so many New York baseball voices assume national roles — and feel the absence of the others — when you truly understand how fortunate we are to have so many terrific voices of summer to guide us through the six-month marathon.
Robert Kane: Here is the new Marshall Plan: Replace Brandon with Roger Lewis. Can’t get any worse. Vac: It’s a quarter of a season. Just think if a baseball free agent had flopped as badly through his first 40 games around here as Marshall has through his first four.
@ChrisEbert7297: If the Jets end up winning six or seven games, should Todd Bowles get Coach of the Year votes? @MikeVacc: If he wins seven games with that team, they should name the trophy after him.
Jerry Jacobs: Someone had better tell Eli and the Giants that the uniform switch with the Jets isn’t funny. Vac: Can’t improve on that. Won’t try.

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