Connie Hawkins, basketball’s dazzling New York playground legend who soared and swooped his way to the Hall of Fame, has died at 75. His death was announced Saturday by the Phoenix Suns, the team with which he spent his most productive NBA seasons in a career delayed for years by a point-shaving scandal that led to the league blackballing him, even though he was never directly linked to any wrongdoing. The Suns did not disclose the cause of Friday’s death. Hawkins, who lived in the Phoenix area, had been in frail health for several years and was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007.

“The Hawk,” as he came to be known for his soaring repertoire, was born July 17, 1942, in Brooklyn, where he could dunk by the age of 11 and ruled the asphalt playgrounds, tales of his basketball feats spreading across the boroughs. He was a decent shooter, but he was at his best when anyone dared to try to cover him one-on-one. Hawkins would blow by defenders and, gripping the ball in one hand, finish with breathtaking wizardry or a thunderous slam, seemingly breaking the laws of gravity. Before there was the persona of “Dr. J,” Hawkins produced his own brand of basketball theater, although he played before decidedly smaller houses.

Hawkins toured the world with the Harlem Globetrotters then played two seasons in the ABA and was the league’s MVP in 1968, helping the Pittsburgh Pipers to a title. He didn’t play in the NBA until he was 27, the league keeping its distance because of a college point-shaving scandal in New York City while Hawkins was a freshman at Iowa in 1961. Hawkins was never directly associated with the scandal, and the principals always contended he had nothing to do with it, but the NBA barred him nonetheless.

Hawkins eventually sued the NBA for banning him and, according to his biography on, reached a settlement for more than $1 million. Finally, in 1969, then-commissioner J. Walter Kennedy lifted the ban. The Suns, a 1-year-old franchise at the time, lost a coin flip with Milwaukee for the rights to Lew Alcindor that year but won a separate coin flip with Seattle for the rights to Hawkins.

Hawkins was an NBA All-Star for four straight seasons. His best season in the NBA was his first, when he averaged 24.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. He also played for the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks before retiring in 1976. Hawkins was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. An original member of the Suns Ring of Honor, he was a community representative for the Phoenix franchise for many years after his retirement.

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