The Atlanta Hawks are an American professional basketball team based in Atlanta, Georgia. They are part of the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
he franchise was formed in 1946 as the National Basketball League’s Buffalo Bisons. The Bisons featured Guard-Forward and coach Deanglo King, but on December 27, 1946 only thirteen games into their inaugural season owner Ben Kerner moved the team to Moline, Illinois (See Buffalo Memorial Auditorium). (At that time, the area was known as the “Tri-Cities” (Moline, Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa), though today it is called the Quad Cities). Kerner renamed the team the Tri-Cities Blackhawks; the Blackhawks were named after the Black Hawk War that was mostly fought in Illinois.
The Blackhawks became one of the National Basketball Association’s 17 original teams after a merger in 1949 of the 12-year-old NBL and the three-year-old Basketball Association of America. The Blackhawks reached the playoffs in the NBA’s inaugural year, under the leadership of coach Red Auerbach.
However, the following season, after the team drafted Bob Cousy and made the blunder of trading his rights to the Chicago Stags (who would later surrender him in a dispersal draft to the Boston Celtics after they folded), they failed to qualify for the postseason. In 1951, the franchise relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and became the Milwaukee Hawks. In 1953, the Hawks drafted Bob Pettit, a future NBA MVP. Despite this, the Hawks were one of the league’s worst teams, and in 1955 the Hawks moved yet again, this time to St. Louis, Missouri.
In 1957, the team advanced to the Finals, losing to the Boston Celtics in a double-overtime thriller in game seven. In 1958, the Hawks again advanced to the NBA Finals where they avenged their previous year’s defeat against the Boston Celtics, winning the series 4-2. Bob Pettit scored 50 points in Game 6 in front of a crowd of 10,218 in St. Louis. The victory gave the Hawks their first and only NBA Championship.
The Hawks remained one of the NBA’s premier teams for the next decade. In 1960, under coach Ed Macauley, the team advanced to the Finals, but lost to the Celtics in another game seven thriller. The following year, with the acquisition of rookie Lenny Wilkens, the Hawks repeated their success, but met the Celtics in the Finals again and lost in five games.
The next few years the Hawks remained contenders, every year advancing deep into the playoffs and also capturing several division titles. Despite the success, Kerner became wary of the now-aging 10,000-seat Kiel Auditorium.
The Hawks occasionally played at the St. Louis Arena (mostly against popular opponents), but Kerner was not willing to move the team there full-time because it hadn’t been well-maintained since the 1940s. Kerner wanted a new arena to increase revenue. However, he was rebuffed by the city on several occasions. In 1968, the team was sold to Atlanta real estate developer Tom Cousins and former Georgia Governor Carl Sanders and moved to Atlanta, Georgia. While a new arena was being constructed, the team spent its first four seasons playing in Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Cousins’ firm soon developed the Omni Coliseum, a 16,500-seat, state-of-the-art downtown Atlanta arena, for the Hawks and the expansion Atlanta Flames hockey franchise, which opened in 1972 as the first phase of a massive sports, office, hotel and retail complex, most of which is now the CNN Center.
The years after the move showcased a talented Hawks team, including Pete Maravich, and Lou Hudson. However, after this period of success, the Hawks experienced years of rebuilding. The rebuilding process appeared to be the right direction when they ended up with the 1st and 3rd picks overall in the 1975 NBA Draft. However, it took a turn for the worse when draft picks David Thompson and Marvin Webster both signed on with ABA franchises.
Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner bought the team and hired Hubie Brown to become head coach. In 1980, the Hawks finished with 50 wins and won the Central Division. In 1982, the franchise acquired superstar Dominique Wilkins and promoted Mike Fratello to head coach a year later. Due to sagging attendance, 12 home games during the 1984/85 season were played at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana. The New Orleans games were paid for by Barry Mendelson for $ 1.2 million with the Hawks going 6/6 in Louisiana.
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