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The St. Louis Hawks were a professional basketball team that played in the NBA from the 1955/56 season to 1967/68. Today, the franchise is known as the Atlanta Hawks following their relocation to Georgia in 1968. The hawks were a mildly successful team winning 1 NBA Championship, 4 conference titles and 6 Division championships. They only failed to make the playoffs once during their 13 year stay in St. Louis.
How did the St. Louis Hawks Start up?
The Hawks franchise can trace its beginnings to 1946 in the form of the Buffalo Bisons who played only 13 games before relocation to Moline Illinois as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. The team moved again to Milwaukee and became the Milwaukee Hawks in 1951. They relocated to Missouri in 1955 becoming the St. Louis Hawks. The Hawks played their home games at the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis.
The Hawks in Competition
During their first season in St. Louis (1955/56), the Hawks, led by Forward Bob Petit powered to second place in the division with a 33-39 record. They beat the Minneapolis Lakers 2 games to 1 in the playoffs despite being outscored by 56 points in the series and advanced to the Western finals. They however lost 3-2 in the finals to Fort Wayne Pistons. The next season, they had their revenge over the Lakers whom they beat by 3 straight games to set up an NBA finals meeting with the Boston Celtics. The teams pushed each other all the way to game 7 which the hawks lost in second overtime by 2 points. They came into the 1957/58 season in imperious form, leading the Western Division with a 41-31 record. They beat the Hawks by 3 games to 1 in the playoffs and were back to the NBA Finals where they again met the Celtics. The Hawks emerged victorious as in five games to win their first NBA championship.
After falling to the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1959 Western Finals, the Hawks would again be back to the NBA Finals in 1960. They met perennial rivals Boston Celtics with whom they tussled all the way to game 7. The Celtics, led by Bill Russell took home the title after they won game 7. In 1960/61, the Hawks routed the Lakers in 7 games to set up yet another NBA Finals meeting with the Celtics. They fell in five games handing the Celtics their fourth title in five years.
In 1961/62 they missed the playoffs for the first and only time, signaling a start of a decline that would see the highs of previous years evade them. They appeared but lost the 1962/63 and 1963/64 Western Finals and again in 1965/66 and 1966/67 season, two of those losses coming against bitter rivals, Los Angeles Lakers. In the 1967/68 season they finished first in the division with a 56-26 record but got no further than the playoffs first round, losing the series 4-2 to the San Francisco Warriors. This would be their last year in St. Louis.
St Louis Hawks most Notable Moments
The first six years in St. Louis were quite memorable for Hawks fans. During those years they made the NBA Finals four times and had a habit of meeting the Boston Celtics. The Celtics, led by Bill Russell, were off course in impressive form and came out on top in three of those meetings. The Hawks beat the Celtics in 1958 for what was the pinnacle of their stay in St. Louis. After exchanging wins in the first six games, the series went to game 7 which was to be played in St. Louis. Star forward Bob Petit delivered the goods, scoring 50 points to help the Hawks emerge with a 110-109 victory.
Another bitter rival for the Hawks was the Minneapolis Lakers whom the met 8 times at different stages of the playoffs. They shared the victories four apiece with the Lakers also on a hot streak of form. Twice, the Hawks would beat the Lakers in the Western Division Finals to reach the NBA Finals and twice, the Lakers would return the favor setting up an interesting rivalry that continues to this day.
St. Louis Hawks most Notable Players
Power Forward Bob Petit, who played for St. Louis between 1955 and 1965, was undoubtedly the best player ever to feature for St. Louis. Petit was instrumental in the Hawks’ 4 NBA final appearances including the triumphant 1958 Final. He was the first player in the NBA to reach 20,000 points for a career average of 26.4 ppg. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1970.
Cliff Hagan played small forward and guard for the hawks from 1956 to 1966. He was signed in 1956 from the Celtics as part of a deal that saw legendary player Bill Russell move the other way. Hagan immediately set up an imperious partnership with Bob Petit that was instrumental in winning the 1958 NBA title. He had a career average of 18.0 ppg which saw him score a total of 13,447 points.
Other notable players for the Hawks include Bob Slater, Lenny Wilkens and Clyde Lovellette.
What Happened to the St. Louis Hawks?
Although the Hawks enjoyed great success during their years in St. Louis, team owner Ben Kerner was unsatisfied with the crumbling Kiel Auditorium which seated only 10,000 people. Some of their games were played against at the larger St. Louis Arena but a full-time move there was out of the question for Kerner. He preferred to build a new larger stadium to increase revenue but his efforts to the same end were continually frustrated by the City of St. Louis.
With no end in sight for the stadium issue, Kerner decided to sell the team to former Georgia Governor Carl Sanders and real estate mogul Thomas Cousins. The new owners relocated the team to Atlanta and it was renamed Atlanta Hawks. St. Louis has yet to host an NBA franchise to date although there is talk of that happening soon including a potential return of the Atlanta Hawks.