Upon arriving in Eatonton, I found it interesting and encouraging to find one of the local church’s lighted signs showing support for what the Atlanta Hawks were doing in their NBA Playoffs run.
Starting with the debut of Dominique Wilkins in 1980-whatever, the Hawks are the one Atlanta franchise that’s received most of my attention and cheers. Counting only those franchises that go back as far as I can remember – and still exist today – the Hawks would be my No. 1 local favorite followed by the Atlanta Braves.
Yes, a sack full of division championships, a handful of World Series runs with that one victory still isn’t enough to be my No. 1. We’ll save all that for a future piece.
And sorry, can’t really rate the Atlanta Falcons on a favorites list. Never was a big fan, so didn’t really shed a tear when the 28-3 lead depleted before everyone’s eyes. With that kind of offense, the game was supposed to be in the bag before it even started.
Hey, raise your hand, along with me, if you can say you once attended an Atlanta Flames game. Who were the Atlanta Flames? If you don’t remember the Atlanta Thrashers, you won’t remember Atlanta’s first National Hockey League franchise.
I even remember the team Atlanta faced in the old Omni that day: The Philadelphia Flyers. Who won? Nope, can’t help you there.
One time I thought Atlanta could be the first city to lose three NHL clubs. The Flames (now in Calgary, Canada), the Thrashers (now the new Winnipeg Jets, also north of the boarder) and they would get another expansion club and lose it in four years to make three, probably to a town like Medicine Hat or Saskatoon.
It’s always been a theory of mine that the serious fanbase of the Atlanta Hawks didn’t stretch far beyond the metro area. But you can find devout Falcons fans all over the state, and the Braves are beloved all over the southeast until you get to Cardinals, Reds or Orioles country. I always hear of people talking about special trips to see Braves games, and even Falcons games, but never the Hawks.
Maybe that had something to do with my decisions. That’s a team that needs a little extra love; the others get plenty. Underdog stories resonate with some people.
It’s also that franchise that could never get to a consistent high level of play no matter what. Only three times since relocating to Atlanta have the Hawks been No. 1 seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs. Only one of those three reached the Eastern Finals. That team, despite home court advantage, was no match for LeBron James … sorry, the Cleveland Cavaliers … no, I was right the first time. James was enough to beat anyone in the East, so the 4-0 sweep surprised nobody.
Here in 2021, we have the second Hawks team to reach the East Finals, and they do it as a fifth seed. And it’s th first in its history to win a conference finals game, two in all before bowing out to the Bucks in six.
Perhaps the turning point for the season was in the coaching change. When your talent isn’t Olympic level, coaching can make all the difference. This Finals series looked to be all about adjustments when the star players went down with injuries. So a kudos to Mike Budenholzer, a former Hawks coach from that first Finals run, for helping restore the value of a professional head coach.
Nate McMillian always seemed to know what he’s doing from the bench wherever he’s worked, and Atlanta may just be the right fit for him.
Is Atlanta, though, the right fit for the type of elite talent needed to claim the NBA’s top prize? Never is the ATL high on the list of a prized free agent. The Hawks never drafted No. 1 overall, and sometimes that’s not a bad thing. It would not surprise me to learn that most of those turned out to be major busts in their professional careers.
The aforementioned Wilkins, the only Hall of Fame player we’ve seen in his prime wearing the red and white uniform, was acquired in a draft-day trade. Has it really taken them this long to find a franchise difference-maker with the selection of Trae Young?