Bill Neal: Connie Hawkins, ‘The Hawk’…Still flying!


:10—In the proverbial sense that we often speak of… “Let’s start at the be­ginning,” let’s do just that. In the summer of 1970, I was in the old weight room above the gym floor in the now-defunct Penn Hills Senior High School. At no time during the pain of rehabbing a par­tially destroyed knee in preparation for my senior year football season did I realize at that time how prominently the pick-up basketball game I was watching below would eventually play in my life. (That stage is set for now. You’ll get the rest of the story in my forthcoming book…due in the year of who knows when!)

:09-—The reason that was a little bit important is that at the time bas­ketball was something we did for fun. Flash forward to 1975 after four of the greatest years of my life and four concussions (and still counting) at Slippery Rock University. Standing outside the newly remod­eled Homewood YMCA, orchestrated by Joe Lewis and yours truly, was the time and place that histo­ry, the likes of which this city had not quite seen be­fore, would be set in order!

:08—It was there and then that I met the leg­ends of the game for the first time. The great Con­nie Hawkins, the legend­ary Kenny “K. D.” Durrett, and the force also knows as “Big” Will Graham—IN THAT FIVE MINUTES I figuratively learned everything about them, about basketball and how to run a summer basket­ball league. And remem­ber, I was just an ex-foot­ball player who loved the game of basketball, learn­ing “on the run” as it were!

:07—With Connie giving me permission to name the soon-to-be-historic summer basketball league after him, with “K.D.” showing me the “how to” and “Big Will” walking me through it, the seed that was planted in my head while in that weight room in 1970 was about to go into full bloom!!!

:06—For most of you, you either played in, knew of, watched, or heard about the now-unprecedented national and interna­tionally recognized Con­nie Hawkins NCAA/Pro/Am Summer Basketball League. (For the rest of you it will be in the book, I promise.) The last person out…turn the lights off…all-city participation bas­ketball event that drew great, fun-loving, exciting, and non-violent groups of 500 to 1,000-plus crowds, Monday through Friday, every night for “40 years.” Many came for the spec­tacle, some because it was the place to be. But the basketball purists came to witness the true definition of ASPHALT STREET BALL THAT LEGENDS ARE MADE OF.

:05—Let’s think of the names that will never be forgotten. The Hawk him­self, K.D., “Big Will,” Norm Nixon, Sam Clancy, Ron Carter, Hosea Champ­ine, Larry Harris, Leroy Freeman, Clyde Vaughan, Kirk Bruce, Larry Rich­ardson, Bobby Franklin, Dr. Death, Lenny Pruitt, Ron Brown, Darrin Walls, Jeff Baldwin, Ricky Cole­man, Jeep Kelly, Bobby Byrd, Craig Prosser, Tom Coates, Darryl Gissen­danner, Stu Lyons, and “Big John” Marshall. Not to forget the women who held their own in the Jen­nifer Bruce League that served as an extension to the Hawkins League. Showcasing Bruce, Karen Hall, Edna Campbell, Lisa White, Margo Hinton, and others, just to name a few. PLEASE – DO – NOT – GET – ME – STARTED ON THE TEAMS THAT SET IT OFF…The Rankin Gangsters, The Cosmic Echoes, Bump Yes!, The Dons, Clairton’s Finest, Fire, the Homewood Hors­es and the Running Reb­els…I asked you not to get me started. Man, there’s just not enough time and space. But yep, you guessed it, it will be in my book…sure ya right…


:04—By now, you’ve asked yourself, where is Neal going with this his­tory lesson and why now? Reasons for you, nephew. #1. We remember and will never forget the great and legendary Connie Haw­kins, without whom none of this would have hap­pened. Everybody came because they wanted “TO FLY WITH THE HAWK!” #2. Unbeknownst to far too many of you, the very continuance of the league and all that came after it, the overnight basketball camps, the Kenny Durrett High School All-Star Bas­ketball Classics, the Fran­co Harris Football Camp, the Willie Stargell MVP Awards…20 programs a year for 49 consecutive years up to and includ­ing the first-ever Pitts­burgh City League High School All Sports Hall of Fame Inductions. NONE OF WHICH MAY HAVE EVER BEEN A REALI­TY WITHOUT THE SUP­PORT OF VINCE LACK­NER. Now the president and founder of the Lack­ner Group, a corporate entity here in Pittsburgh. But then, a strong and more-than-capable bas­ketball player from Har­vard and Rhodes Scholar candidate, who gave of his time to challenge the IRS and aid in securing the necessary and valu­able 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax exempt status that would allow us to move forward and continue our growth. (Which reminds me, after nearly 50 years of dedicated community service, we should pay Vince the $50 we owe him for his service…actually it was pro bono). #3. The circle is nearly complete as THE NBA’S PHOENIX SUNS RECENTLY IN­DUCTED “THE HAWK” INTO THEIR RING OF HONOR including banner unveiling, and ceremony along with “Sir Charles” Barkley, Walter Davis, Kevin Johnson, Steve Nash and others.

:03—Although I claim Connie as my big broth­er, the real and rightful bloodline was called upon to represent his name­sake and legacy. Shawn Hawkins, Connie’s grand­son, stood tall and proud as he represented his grandfather at the cer­emony a few weeks ago. Shawn, a Pittsburgh City League Hall of Famer, college standout, and pro­fessional European star, was more than suited for the task and would have made Connie proud.

:02—Shawn represents his family’s name and leg­acy and has a tight-knit group including Vince Lackner and Major Mark Whited, who is the author of the forthcoming book on Connie Hawkins and the champion Pittsburgh Pip­ers of the ABA. He works with them as he continues to advance the legendary story of the great Connie Hawkins. Those who have serious interest and/or valuable information to contribute, you can reach Shawn through me at the Achieving Greatness of­fice at 412-628-4856.

:01—I am forever grate­ful that I got to FLY WITH THE HAWK!



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