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The Milwaukee Hawks were an American basketball team that played in the Western Division of the NBA between 1951 and 1955. The team later became the Atlanta Hawks which still plays in the NBA to date. The Hawks’ home Arena was the Milwaukee Arena nicknamed the Mecca. The team wore a blue and white strip for most of their time in Milwaukee, having ditched the red and white stripe they inherited from the Blackhawks just 13 games into their first season.
How did the Hawks Startup?
The franchise that became the Milwaukee Hawks had begun as the Buffalo Bisons in 1946 before moving to Moline, Illinois where they changed their name to the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. In 1951, the Blackhawks relocated to Milwaukee and they shortened their nickname to the Hawks. Doxie Moor was named the teams’ coach as they prepared for their first season in action.
The Milwaukee Hawks in Competition
The Hawks enjoyed little success of note on court during their four year stint in action. They finished last in the Western Division in each of these seasons. In 1951/52 season, they, their first year in Milwaukee, the Hawks posted a terrible record of 17-49 to finish dead last in the league. The only noteworthy thing about their season was Mel Hitchins’ tally of 13.3 rebounds per game which tied for second in the league. In 1952/53 their record improved by 10 games to 27-44 but they still finished at the bottom of the Western Division.
Their woeful form continued in 1953/54 as they recorded 21-51 to end the season in last place again despite replacing Coach Andrew Levane with William Holzman towards the end of the season. The next year Rookie Bob Petit posted some impressive scoring numbers (20.4ppg) which was fourth highest in the league and enough to earn him the Rookie of the Year award. His contribution was however not enough to lift the Hawks out of last place in the division as they ended the season with a 16-46 record.
Milwaukee Hawks’ most Notable Moments
On March 7, 1954 the Hawks played an experimental but official match against the Minneapolis Lakers at the Minneapolis Auditorium. The Lakers star George Mikan had been so impressive that the league was contemplating changes to the game just to slow him down and other big players. In this game the NBA introduced 12-foot-high baskets. The change seemed to be working as Mikan became anonymous for much of the game and the Hawks in contrast to their nature went toe to toe with their much more reputable rivals for much of the game. However, another big Lakers man Vern Mikkelsen stepped up with 17 points to condemn the Hawks to a 65-63 loss. The 12 foot baskets were heavily criticized for increasing the gap between the small players and the big ones and it was dropped from consideration as a permanent feature.
Milwaukee Hawks’ Most Notable Players
Hall of Famer Bob Petit started his professional career with the Milwaukee Hawks. Although he played only one season for the team he left an indelible mark after contributing an average of 20.4 points per game in 1954/55 season which won him the Rookie of the year award and put him fourth on the scoring charts.
Power forward Mel Hutchins played for the Hawks during the 1951/52 and 1952/53 seasons and although the team as a whole performed dismally, Hutchins’ numbers were impressive. In his rookie year, he posted a league joint high tally of 13.3 rebounds per game.
Chuck Share played center for the Hawks from 1953 to 1955 and he posted fairly descent stats for the team. He was not particularly known for his scoring prowess but was instrumental in defense posting a defense rating of 55 and 66 respectively during his two seasons with the team.
Other players worth mentioning include Don Otten, Bill Calhoun and Don Sunderage.
What Happened to the Milwaukee Hawks?
The Hawks’ on-court performances were consistently poor and naturally, fans lost interest in the team. At the end of the 1955 season in which they characteristically finished in last place, the franchise’s owner Ben Kerner announced his intentions to move the team away from Milwaukee citing losses from low fan turnout. The Hawks relocated to St. Louis but retained their nickname. Shortly after their relocation, their fortunes took an about turn as they won the NBA championship in 1958. The city of Milwaukee did not have to wait long for another NBA team as the Milwaukee Bucks set up shop in the city in 1968 and have since enjoyed much greater success than the Hawks did.