A lot of people never knew that St. Louis ever had a NBA team but, they did! The St. Louis Hawks and they was a pretty decent team too! What is ever more cool is the fact that St. Louis has an NBA championship! They beat the Celtics in the NBA finals 4 games to 2 in 1958! Bob Pettit Scored 50 points and that was before the three point line! Pretty cool!
And now, the rest of the story...
The St. Louis Hawks were one of the premiere NBA teams for the decade they were in St. Louis. Besides winning the NBA championship in 1958, they lost three other times in the NBA finals, in '57, '60, and '61. Amazingly, they drafted Bill Russell in '57, and immediately traded him to Boston for Ed Mccauley, former St. Louis U star, and Cliff Hagan. Despite going to the finals four times between '57-'68, and reaching the Western finals 3 other times, and making the playoffs every year except '59 (Hawks only losing season), following the '68 season, the Hawks were sold to Atlanta. Today they are known as the Atlanta Hawks.
Why? Attendance started declining in the early '60s, as the Hawks started adding more and more blacks to the team. Then in 1967, St. Louis as awarded a NHL team, the St. Louis Blues. Attendance in the '67-68 season for the Hawks was dismal - often less than 1,000 people in the stands at Kiel Audutorium. Meanwhile, the Blues were regularly drawing 12,000-14,000 at the St. Louis Arena. St. Louis would not support a mostly black basketball team, albeit a playoff team, but would support an all white hockey team. St. Louis was known as a racist city at the time.
I can remember listening to the Hawks on my transistor radio as a 9-10 year old. Such cool names - Jumping Joe Caldwell, Zelmo Beatty, Sweet Lou Hudson, and Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens.
It was indeed a sad day for me when the Hawks left. I have never followed the Blues and anti hockey because the Blues cost St. Louis a NBA team. I went to a few ABA St. Louis Spirits games in the mid '70s (what a team BTW - Marvin Barnes, a 19 yr. old Moses Malone, Fly Williams), but still was considered a second class league without the Celtics, Lakers, and Knicks.
Losing the Hawks hurt the culture of basketball in Missouri, and still continues to this day. Missouri has never been a hot bed of high school basketball, other than Southeast Missouri where basketball is still king at most schools. Missouri high school basketball historically compare to Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee. Missouri is improving as a few more native Missourians are reaching the NBA. But for the decades that followed the exodus of the Hawks, Missouri born and raised players in the NBA could be counted on a couple fingers most seasons.
And that's the rest of the story. Good Day!
I would not rule out racism playing a role in the loss of the Hawks, but at the same time, wonder why fans still supported the baseball team, with the likes of Curt Flood, Bob Tolan, Lou Brock, Bill White, Orlando Cepeda, Bob Gibson, etc.?
Wish I could of seen the Hawks. That would have been so cool!
Didn't Win Wilfong from Puxico play for the Hawks in the mid-50's and also hold some scoring records for a time. Correct me if i'm wrong.
semo7178 - the '60s Cardinals were still predominantly white - Musial, Boyer, Shannon, McCarver, Maxville, Ricketts, Maris, Carlton, Briles, Sadecky, ect. If you remember right, there was not alot of love between Gibson and Musial. Trend continued thru '70s and '80s even today. Cardinals have always had their share of white players, even today look who is making the money and long contracts, besides Yadi - Carpenter, Adams, Holiday, Wainwright, Wacha, Lynn, Wong. My point being - the Cardinals have never put a predominantly black and/or Latino team on the field. Lots of truth in what I am saying. What if Heyward was white? Think about it!
I realize this is an old thread, but I just saw it and wanted to add some info.
Bogey, I shared your sadness when the Hawks departed in 1968. I got the news between classes at Parkway High School--there was no Central, West, North, or South then.
I agree that race and the Blues had something to do with it, but it's hard to say how much. It seems to me that Hawks' owner Ben Kerner weighed all of the factors and concluded that it was time to sell. The Hawks were still popular but weren't generating the kind of buzz they had earlier. It didn't help that the Cardinals had just won the Series in '67 and that the 1st-year Blues were in the midst of advancing to the Stanley Cup finals with a thrilling playoff run.
Also, the upstart ABA also seemed to be succeeding, which put upward pressure on player salaries.
The racial aspect wasn't unique to St. Louis. The Hawks attendance was down over 25% from its peak in 1961, but they still averaged 6288 fans per game the year they left St. Louis.
That sounds very low, but the NBA was not drawing huge crowds in most places in those days. New York and LA regularly drew over 10,000 in the '60s, but that wasn't the case elsewhere. In fact, the year the Hawks left, they outdrew most of the other teams in the Western Division. The Warriors averaged just 4520, the Bulls 3975, and the San Diego Rockets 4067. In the East, the Knicks and Celtics drew big crowds, but the Cincinnati Royals averaged just 4155 and the Baltimore Bullets 4754. Two years after the Hawks left StL, the Pistons attendance dropped to 4412 per game. '76er attendance dropped to a low of 4620 in 1974.
And after the Hawks moved to Atlanta, they failed to equal the '68 attendance in St. Louis in 8 of their first 10 years. Their first year in Atlanta, they averaged just 4474 fans per game.
So I think you can make a pretty good argument that St. Louis was far from the only city in the League whose attendance was affected by the racial composition of the rosters.
court, Wilfong was drafted by the Hawks in the 1st Round of the 1957 draft (the 4th overall pick).
He averaged around 8 points per game as a rookie for the NBA champion Hawks. He was a good all-around guard but didn't set any NBA scoring records during his 4-year career. He did lead the Hawks in assists per minute in the '58 playoffs.
Had a tremendous career at Memphis State after playing 2 years at Mizzou. Still regarded as one of Memphis State's greatest players. Could score, pass, and rebound.
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