The Hawks hold one NBA Championship -won in 1958- and while we associate the Hawks with their current location in Atlanta, Georgia, their time as the crown jewel of professional basketball occurred in America’s gateway to the west, St. Louis, Missouri.
The Hawks’ time in “The Lou” lasted from 1955 to 1968, and in that time frame, they were home to several legends of the game and one of the most questionable trades in NBA history.
The team flourished on the court, but in a fashion that would become familiar to pro sports fans in the area, the Hawks would eventually succumb to poor attendance and relocate to Atlanta.
The First MVP: Bob Petit
The most successful player to take the court for the St. Louis Hawks is easily Hall of Famer Bob Petit.
Bob Petit is one of the pioneers of the NBA, and during his time in the league, averaged an impressive 26.4 points and 16.2 rebounds per game.
Petit was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player twice, once in 1956 and again in 1959. His MVP award in 1956 was the first time the league named an MVP, forever linking St. Louis to one of the top accomplishments basketball players aspire to attain.
Bill Russell Trade
In the 1956 NBA Draft, the Hawks held the 2nd overall pick. With the 2nd pick in the draft, the Hawks selected the University of San Francisco standout and immortal basketball legend Bill Russell. However, they traded their selection to the Boston Celtics for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan.
Short term, the trade worked for the Hawks, The acquisition of two Hall of Fame level talents for one player, and THEN using both players to win a championship against the team you traded with, in most cases is an undisputed win.
However, long term, the Hawks lost out on having a player who would go on to change the game of basketball forever. Bill Russell’s legacy with 11 NBA Championships in a Celtics uniform (3 against the STL Hawks) is untouchable for players in the modern game, and his successes in “Beantown” were the building blocks of the expectation of greatness for Celtics franchise.
The magnitude of the mark Bill Russell left on the game leaves us wondering, what would his legacy look like if he played in St. Louis? Would the team still be there today if the trade never happened?
Unfortunately, we’ll never know, but we can acknowledge the Hawks’ success as they reached the pinnacle of the NBA in 1958.
The 1958 St. Louis Hawks won the Western Division with a record of 41-31. In the playoffs, they beat the Detroit Pistons in 5 games and then would go on to beat the Celtics in 6, capturing the only NBA championship in Hawks history.
Note: Bill Russell was hobbled with an ankle injury for most of the series.
Overall, the Hawks’ time in St. Louis bred basketball success, and due to the legacy of players such as Bob Petit, it was also impactful in shaping what the league would eventually become in the future.
Hopefully this post left you with a few small tidbits of knowledge and hey, who knows, one day some of this might show up on a trivia question and you never would’ve known if you didn’t check out District of Buckets.