The earliest photo in the collection….November 1961…. Remember Cleo Hill? The Hawk’s number one draft pick from a small school in the Carolinas, Hill was prophesied to be an every year All-Star and the Hawks answer to Oscar and Jerry West. While a very talented player, Cleo never quite came around for a variety of reasons, some say racially motivated (remember it was 1961!!)…He lasted one year in the league and it was also the Hawks worst year in St. Louis (29-51)….a disappointing situation all around. Here Cleo goes high to snatch a rebound away from four New York Knicks, including future Hawk Ritchie Guerin (9)
From Kiel…Larry Sigfried was an Ohio State product who became the new sixth man for the Boston Celtics after the retirement of Frank Ramsey. The Hawk’s Lou Hudson watches it roll out-of-bounds under the basket…Sweet Lou was the teams big scorer in 1967 and 1968…the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the retirement of Bob Pettit in ’65…the Minnesota alum had a sweet jump shot, thus the nickname tagged by Jerry Gross.
I don’t know about you, but my favorite away court was the Sports Arena in Los Angeles….that clock was the biggest in the league and hung kinda low over the floor…and LA… and the Lakers…West, Baylor…the rivalry..for me it all added up. Here’s another pic from that storied arena…Len Wilkens down the lane…up and in!!
Hagan again…same way…same result. Two points over Cincinnati Royal Tom Hawkins. AND…The Memphis Hawks, anyone?? This photo from January 1966 was taken at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, where as early as 1965 Hawk’s owner Ben Kerner was shopping the team around. The team played six “home” games in Memphis in ’66 to guage the interest of that southern city in NBA basketball, and specifically, OUR St. Louis Hawks!!
The staple shot of Hawks forward Cliff Hagan…the hook…this time left handed over Elgin Baylor in a 1963 playoff game at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
The Big Z….Zelmo Beatty…The starting center for the last four years in St. Louis…here he goes high to block this shot by Knicks center Willas Reed at the Garden…Number 31 was as clutch as Wilt, Russell and the rest….a true pro.
Jumpin’ Joe Caldwell…Pogo Joe, so labled by Hawks play-by-play broadcaster Jerry Gross. Joe was an integral part of the Hawks offense, coming from the Detroit Pistons before the 1965 season. In four seasons in St. Louis, he averaged in double figures and was usaully the spark that got a rally underway late in the game when the team needed it most. Personally, one of my favorites… .. .simply because he spent a great deal of time working with me at the Concordia Seminary in the summers of 1966 and ’67. Joe was an instructor at Coach Pete Pederson’s annual summer camp for high school players, and I got a lot of one-on-one from this outstanding pro. It certainly made me, and others, I’m sure, a better all around basketball player.
Ol “Big Blue”….the Hawks captain for 10 seasons and without doubt the most prominent hoopster in Hawks history….Bob Pettit was a three time All-SEC player from LSU drafted in the first round by the then Milwaukee Hawks in 1954. His number 50 worn in college was retired by the LSU Tigers and he is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame….but in St. Louis, for Hawk fans in the late 50’s and early 60’s, the best was yet to come!
Moving with the team to St. Louis for the start of the 1955 NBA season, Pettit became one of the premier forwards in NBA history, and became the first true “power forward” in the league. An NBA All-Star in each of his 11 seasons, he averaged 20.4 ppg and 16.2 rebounds in All-Star competition, winning a record four MVP awards. But it was in the sixth game of the 1958 NBA finals against the Boston Celtics that Hawk fans will remember Pettit at his best. On a balmy Saturday night in mid April at Kiel Auditorium, leading the Celtics three games to two, the Hawks put on a blazing fourth quarter drive that propelled them to their first and only NBA championship in St. Louis. Bob Pettit was the driving force, scoring 19 of the Hawks last 21 points in the game as they topped the Celtics 110-109. No wonder Ben Kerner loved the guy!!
Many say that Pettit was to basketball in our town what Stan the Man was to baseball…a fair assessment to be sure. Bob was a two time MVP of the league, the first player to score 20,000 points in a career, and since his retirement in 1965, has been elected to the All-NBA Team, voted one the NBA’s greatest 50 players of all time, and given his due in the NBA Hall of Fame in 1970. And for St. Louis fans who remember this stalwart, it came full cycle in May of 2009, when Pettit came back to the Gateway City to receive a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in the Delmar Loop! Enjoy these pictures of number 9, the greatest player to wear a St. Louis Hawks uniform!!
As the Hawks power forward, Pettit drew the big name opposing defenders night after night. In this game at Kiel in 1964, rookie Jerry Lucas of the Cincinnati Royals has his hand full as Big Blue looks to register another two points…maybe three…think Lucas fouled him?