I grew up on Mark Price, John Salley, Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott and other NBA greats. The first NCAA Tournament that I remember was the famous 1985 one when Villanova beat Georgetown, but also in that tournament Georgia Tech made a run all the way to the elite 8 before losing to Georgetown. I had a giant piece of paper up on the wall in my bedroom with the brackets meticulously drawn out. In 1990, I watched Tech beat Shaquille O’ Neal and LSU and then watched Kenny Anderson hit a last second shot (after the buzzer maybe?) to put Michigan State out of the tournament on the way to the Final Four. I used to practice free throws in the back yard and pretend I was making a last second shot to win the NCAA Championship. I took classes with Drew Berry and Matt Harpring. I participated in revolt at a couples’ wedding shower to sneak all the guys downstairs to watch Georgia Tech get into the 2004 Final Four. I have followed a lot of basketball in my lifetime.
There was another team in Atlanta, but I didn’t pay attention to them. I knew who Dominique Wilkens and Spud Webb were, but for whatever reason the Atlanta Hawks did not capture my imagination. I kinda disliked The Omni, and didn’t really have much interest in watching games there. The Hawks had a pretty good run in the 80’s and then again under Lenny Wilkens, but they never made it to the NBA finals and never stirred my interest enough. Ten years ago, the Hawks were bought by the reprehensible Atlanta Spirit, LLC group who also bought the Atlanta Thrashers hockey team. My low interest in the Hawks reached an all-time low when Atlanta Spirit left the Thrashers to wither on the vine and then shipped them off to Winnepeg. I vowed to never put a dime into the Hawks as long as they were owned by Atlanta Spirit and I have not been to a home game since.
In the last year, Atlanta Spirit managed to show everyone what a horrible group of owners they were with a series of revealed group e-mails between them. The e-mails fretted over things like whether the crowd at Hawks games was “too urban” (read: too black) and how they could attract suburbanites back to Philips Arena, clearly lusting after the disposable income that the Atlanta Braves were about to rake in by moving to Cumberland. The national media caught on to what we knew in Atlanta, the Hawks were owned by an incompetent group that was only slightly more progressive than Donald Sterling. However, Atlanta Spirit did do two smart things; they hired two smart people. The new CEO, Steve Koonan, has worked hard to make Hawks games entertaining again and brand them with a new image that reflects what Atlanta is now, a tension of urban and rural that actually can coexist and enjoy each other’s culture. The new head coach, Mike Budenholzer, brought an attitude that reflected the coach he worked under, Greg Popovich, and created a team that played smart and as a cohesive unit and to everyone’s surprise, they roared all the way to the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference this year.
Then the news I have been craving came out this year, Atlanta Spirit would sell 100% of their ownership in the Hawks As of this post, the Hawks have not been sold yet, but once they are I will lift my boycott (and I look forward to the new owner of the Atlanta Hawks, Dikembe Mutumbo, at least that’s who it would be in my dreams.) In the meantime, however, I’m on board for these playoffs. I’m going to watch all the games on TV and openly root for them through this post-season. Cheering for Atlanta sports is an act of humility as they inevitably disappoint (we are still hanging on to that one lone World Series championship in 1995) and my fandom most definitely will put the stink on the Hawks, but my expectations are low. A series win would be fantastic and a ride to the NBA finals would be greater than anything I could hope for, but let’s do this. Let’s cheer for #eventhehawks.