NBA legend and Hall of Famer Cornelius “Connie” Hawkins is dead at the age of 75.
The Brooklyn native got his start on the playgrounds of New York City and quickly became a mainstay at the famous Rucker Park in Harlem, where he was dunking by the age of 11.
Hawkins started to really ball during his junior year of high school. He took his talents to Iowa, where he was expelled before his first game when he was linked to—but never officially implicated or indicted in—a New York-based point shaving scandal. Even though he wasn’t actually involved in the scandal, National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner J. Walter Kennedy blackballed him from the league and refused to sign him to any team despite his astounding skills.
He later sued the NBA for $6 million for what he called an unfair ban, but in the meantime Hawkins played with the Harlem Globetrotters, the American Basketball League, and the American Basketball Association (ABA). He won an ABA championship in ’68 and was a four-time All-Star. Despite his success in the ABA, he likely would’ve seen that recognition tenfold if he’d been able to play alongside the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, and other inaugural NBA heroes.
In 1969, the NBA settled his suit for $1.3 million and allowed Hawkins to sign with the Phoenix Suns. He dominated the ’69 season; averaging 24 points over 81 games and helping the Suns finish in third place that year. Knee problems would force him to retire after only seven season in the NBA, but his influence was enough for him to get inducted into the Basketball Hall Of Fame in 1992.