RIP, the great Connie Hawkins. Here are some of his best dunks
He played one year in the short-lived ABL, several years with the Globetrotters and two years in the ABA (MVP one year) before he ever got a shot in the NBA. Teams had shunned him because of a gambling scandal in his college days, although the Hawk was never accused of participating in any fixes. In fact, he was a freshman at the time and didn't even play on the corrupt varsity squad, but he was expelled from Iowa anyway because of his association with fixer Jack Molinas. As a result, he never played a single game of varsity college basketball, and was blackballed by the NBA.
When he finally settled his differences with the NBA (they paid him more than a million dollars in damages), he was ready. He averaged 25 points and 10 boards as a rookie, and almost led his expansion team to a Western Conference victory over an all-star Lakers team that included a tremendous supporting cast behind three of the greatest players of all time: Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain.
Knee problems hampered him throughout the rest of his pro career, so the Hawk never had another year like that. He was merely excellent for a couple of years, then just kinda good until he retired.
SIDEBAR: here are the stats for the only complete year of the long-forgotten ABL. Although Hawkins was only 19 at the time, he led the league in scoring and narrowly missed the rebounding crown. And he was not playing against schmucks. The league's other stars included Bill Bridges and Dick Barnett, both of whom had long NBA careers. Barnett had, in fact, played in the NBA before the ABL and would return when the ABL folded, accumulating more than 15000 points in his career. Bridges averaged 12 rebounds a game over more than a decade of NBA play, and is still in the top 30 of all time in that category.