Put simply, the Atlanta Hawks care about their fans. It’s why, every year, they give out free tickets to their designated Sixth Man cheering section. The club entered competitive play as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks and played in Milwaukee and St. Louis before finally touching down in the Peach State in 1968. Since then, they’ve been thrilled to call Atlanta home and want everyone to know it.
While Bob Pettit guided the organization to a world championship in 1958, the team didn’t begin to make waves in The ATL until the 1970-71 season when Pistol Pete Maravich arrived. The reigning NCAA scoring champion, Maravich possessed a bag of tricks that would make any wizard jealous. Whether it was a no-look pass on the fast break or a sublime reverse lay-up, the Pistol became a fan favorite almost immediately. However, Maravich’s stay in Atlanta would only last four years before he was traded to the New Orleans Jazz expansion team in ‘74. Hubie Brown assumed head coaching duties in ‘76, and by the ‘79-80 season, he had propelled the Hawks to a Central Division title and their first 50-win campaign since ‘68.
In the fall of ‘82, the franchise acquired rookie Dominique Wilkins, and its fortunes began to soar. “The Human Highlight Film” powered the club to the postseason eight times between ‘82 and ‘93, and averaged 30.3 points per game during the ‘85-86 season to lead the league in scoring. A nine-time All-Star and two-time winner of the annual Slam Dunk Contest, Wilkins became renowned for his ability to elevate his game when it mattered most. In 1988, as the club battled the mighty Boston Celtics in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Wilkins went toe to toe with Larry Bird and proceeded to match “Larry Legend” shot for shot in the fourth quarter, en route to scoring 47 points. The Celts would triumph, but Wilkins’ place among the elites was solidified. In 2006, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and in 2015, the Hawks unveiled a 13-foot-tall statue outside Philips Arena to honor their high-flying star.
Former player Lenny Wilkens would return to Atlanta in ‘93 to serve as the team’s head coach, and three years later, became the first bench boss to win 1,000 career games. However, despite 50-win campaigns in both ‘96-97 and ‘97-98, the club was unable to find much postseason success. Fans remained encouraged, though, and their enthusiasm was evident when the team moved to the stately confines of Philips Arena in ‘99 and continued to play in front of packed crowds. Their faith was finally rewarded in 2007-08 thanks to the All-Star play of guard Joe Johnson, who helped book the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since the new coliseum opened.
These days, it’s hard to imagine a time when the Hawks weren’t in Atlanta, as the franchise has become a model for consistency in the Eastern Conference. Supporters gladly rock Hawks red while also keeping their eye on the biggest prize, another world championship trophy.