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INTRODUCTION

Atlanta Hawks, professional basketball team and one of eight teams in the Central Division of the Eastern Conference of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The Hawks play in Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia and wear jerseys of red, white, and gold. The team was founded as the Tri-City Blackhawks, based in Moline and Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa. The team later moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and St. Louis, Missouri, before relocating in Atlanta.

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NOTABLE ACCOMPLISHMENTS

In the late 1950s and early 1960s the St. Louis Hawks were among the best teams in professional basketball, reaching the NBA Finals four out of five years from 1955 to 1959. The Hawks won the franchise’s only NBA title in 1958. Top players included Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan, Ed Macauley, and Lenny Wilkens. Notable players since the team moved to Atlanta have included Pete Maravich and Dominique Wilkins.

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FRANCHISE HISTORY

The club began in 1946 as the Tri-City Blackhawks of the National Basketball League (NBL). The NBL and the rival Basketball Association of America merged in 1949 to form the NBA, and the Blackhawks, coached by Red Auerbach, reached the playoffs in the new league’s 1949-50 season.

In 1951 the team moved to Milwaukee and became the Hawks. Despite drafting Pettit in 1953, the Hawks remained near the bottom of the league. Before the 1955-56 season the club moved to St. Louis, and Pettit led the league in scoring and rebounding and was named NBA most valuable player (MVP).

 In the 1956-57 season the team bolstered its lineup with trades that brought Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley to St. Louis, and in 1957 the franchise advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time, facing the Boston Celtics. The Celtics prevailed in double overtime in the seventh and final game, winning 126-124. Under coach Alex Hannum the Hawks again met the Celtics in the 1958 NBA Finals. Hagan, Macauley, and Pettit, who led the team in scoring during the regular season, continued to do so in the finals. Pettit scored 50 points in the deciding sixth game to give the Hawks their only NBA title.

The Hawks remained one of the league’s best teams for the next several years behind Pettit, who earned his second MVP award in 1958-59 after leading the league in scoring with an average of 29.2 points per game. The next season, 1959-60, marked the Hawks’ return to the NBA Finals under Macauley, who had become head coach. But the team fell to the Celtics in the seven-game finals. In 1960-61 the Hawks added rookie guard Lenny Wilkens and won the division in the regular season by 15 games. The Hawks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the division finals, but a tired Hawks lineup was beaten by the Celtics in five games in the NBA Finals.

The Hawks remained a contender through the 1960s, reaching the division finals in 1963, 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1969. After the 1967-68 season the team was sold to Georgia real estate developer Thomas Cousins and former Georgia governor Carl Sanders, who moved the team to Atlanta. The Hawks reached the 1969 division finals and returned as division champions a year later before falling to the Lakers in the playoffs. The club drafted Pete Maravich in 1970, and he played with the Hawks for four seasons. In much of the early and mid-1970s the club registered losing records, never making it past the first round of the playoffs. Media tycoon and Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner bought the Hawks in 1977, and under head coach Hubie Brown they won the 1979-80 Central Division title with 50 wins. In 1982 the Hawks obtained Dominique Wilkins. Known for his acrobatic style of play, Wilkins led the league in scoring in 1986, averaging 30.3 points per game, and the club recorded more than 50 victories in each of four straight seasons, from 1985-86 to 1988-89. The Hawks, however, failed to advance past the conference semifinal round. The team’s yearly victory totals slipped in the early 1990s. In 1993 Wilkens was hired as head coach. He helped the Hawks tie a franchise record with 57 wins during the 1993-94 season, and in 1995 Wilkens broke Auerbach’s all-time record for victories by an NBA head coach when he secured victory number 939.