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Connie Hawkins and his fight against the NBA

On October sixth, the NBA lost one of the great pioneers in league history. Connie Hawkins was a four time NBA all-star and former ABA MVP, who's legal battle with the ABA and NBA helped change the landscape of professional basketball.

Few athletes in American history have ever been as victimized by the system as Hawkins was. In 1961, while Hawkins was a freshman at Iowa and ineligible to play on the Hawkeyes varsity team due to NCAA regulations at the time, a humongous college betting scandal erupted and Hawkins was kicked out of school.

The scandal involved 22 different schools and 37 players, but Hawkins was not implicated. The scandal mostly focused on players associated with Jack Molinas, who had escaped the CCNY betting scandal a decade and a half earlier. Hawkins, growing up in New York City, knew many of the players involved and had borrowed $2,000 for school expenses from Jack Molinas, but Hawkins brother had paid Molinas back before the scandal erupted.

During the investigation Molinas admitted to borrowing Hawkins the money, but never told him to throw games or to bet on basketball. In the end Molinas would serve 5 years in prison.

The NCAA kicked Hawkins out and barred any other NCAA or NAIA school to sign him, forcing Hawkins to play basketball in backwater leagues. The NBA commission J. Walter Kennedy also barred Hawkins from playing in the NBA.

Hawkins would join the upstart ABL and play for the Pittsburgh Rens. Hawkins excelled in the league and was name league MVP. The league folded half way through its second year and Hawkins was forced to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.

In 1965 Hawkins became eligible for the NBA draft but went un-drafted, he was again un-drafted in 1966 and 1967. During this time Hawkins filed a $6 million dollar lawsuit against the NBA alleging that they had unfairly banned him.

While he was waiting for the lawsuit to move through the courts, Hawkins joined the Pittsburgh Pipers of the newly founded American Basketball Association. The move was to show the NBA that he had talent and could play at that level.

Hawkins dominated the league in its first year in existence averaging a league leading 27 points a game. He would go on to be named the leagues first MVP and lead the Pipers to the leagues first championship.

Despite all the success of the Pipers they moved to Minneapolis after just one year and Hawkins followed the team to the Twin Cities. Hawkins played great his second year as well, but that season was halted by injuries.

Following the 1968-69 season the NBA settled with Hawkins, giving him $1.3 million dollars and awarding his rights to the expansion Phoenix Suns. After nearly a half-decade long battle Hawkins, at 25, was allowed to join the NBA.

Hawkins would give the NBA fans what they wanted, a high flying spectacular scorer and helped make the Suns relevant. The Suns would make the playoffs in their second NBA season with Hawkins but be bounced by the Los Angeles Lakers. The Suns would miss the playoffs the rest of Hawkins' tenure with the team, but would always have a winning record.

Knee injuries were a persistent problem for Hawkins since his days with the Pipers. The knee injuries coupled with his age when he joined the NBA shortened his career in the NBA.

After 4 seasons with the Suns Hawkins was traded to the Lakers and would finish his career with the Hawks. He would finish with a 19 points ans 8 rebounds per game average in 499 career NBA games.

Hawkins short NBA career would not be as notable had it not been for his fight against the league which would loosen the leagues stance on barred players and helped issue in more equality in dealing with players and outside the league issues such as gambling.

For all his efforts, Hawkins was introduced into the Basketball Hall-of-Fame in 1992.