Willie Worsley, a guard on the Texas Western team that claimed the 1966 NCAA title, remembers the wingspan of Connie Hawkins from the Rucker League.
“Big hands,” Worsley says, “and long, long, long, really long arms. He was the first Dr. J. He was tricky as whatever. He let you know you were on his court.”
Ray Haskins, the former Alexander Hamilton High and LIU coach, recalls a Hawkins performance at Kingston Park in Brooklyn. Oscar Robertson watched Hawkins that day, as well, and inquired about what college Hawkins attended.
“He was a junior at Boys High,” Haskins says. “He was masterful at a young age.”
Jackie Jackson was two years ahead of Hawkins at Boys. He later teamed with “The Hawk” on the Harlem Globetrotters, as well.
“My mother used to cook him meals before our games,” Jackson says. “He never said no. Wilt Chamberlain was the best player I ever went up against. Connie was next.”
Former teammates and opponents recalled Hawkins, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Saturday as news of his death spread.
He was 75 and lived in the Phoenix area, across the country from the city asphalt where he launched his career.
His legacy included back-to-back PSAL titles with Boys High and exploits in the schoolyards that spread by word of mouth. He earned a scholarship to play at the University of Iowa, but was banned from playing after his freshman season due to a point-shaving scandal. He was also blocked from entering the NBA because of a questionable connection to the central figure in a gambling probe. His prime was spent in the American Basketball League, with the Globetrotters and finally the American Basketball Association. By the time he reached the NBA, he was 27.
“He never did get to show his talent on the college level,” Jackson says. “If he had listened to me and come down to Virginia Union, he would have been better off. He wasted a good 10 years. When he got to the NBA, he was shot.”
There was later a book about Hawkins’s journey. It was called “Foul! The Connie Hawkins Story.” Haskins required that his players read it.
“Mandatory reading,” Haskins says.