‘The Hawk’ remembered fondly at Suns memorial service

Phoenix Suns Hall-of-Famer Connie Hawkins’ jersey displayed at a celebration of life and legacy event at Talking Stick Resort Arena, Friday, October 20, 2017, Phoenix. (Photo by Jamie Nish/ Cronkite News)

Phoenix Suns Hall-of-Famer Connie Hawkins’ celebration of life and legacy event at Talking Stick Resort Arena, Friday, October 20, 2017, Phoenix. (Photo by Jamie Nish/ Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — Standing a full 6 feet 8 inches tall, Connie Hawkins’ impact on Phoenix Suns basketball was as large as he was.

Hundreds of fans, staff, family and friends gathered at Talking Stick Resort Arena Friday to honor the life of “The Hawk,” who died on October 6 at 75.

Hawkins, who played for the Suns from 1969-1973, was a four-time NBA All-Star after multiple years with the Harlem Globetrotters and the ABA. He was the first-ever Suns player inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a 1992 inductee. He had his jersey No. 42 retired and was inducted into the Suns ring of honor in 1976.

The ceremony began with Suns broadcaster Al McCoy, who joked that the crowd would have to sit for hours if everybody told their fondest memories of the late Hawkins. A prayer was said, and a number of those closest to “The Hawk” took their turns telling brief stories about their time with him.

Former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, who was the coach for much of Hawkins’ playing time in Phoenix, said he was not immediately sure their partnership would result in success, based off the first time the two landed at Sky Harbor International Airport.

“When the door opened, Hawk and I were the first ones to get off the plane,” he said. “And he had a suit on, a wool suit on, and when he felt that heat hit him, he literally turned around. He was going back to sit down. He wasn’t sure this was going to work out.”

Despite playing just four full seasons in Phoenix, Hawkins was remembered as a truly unique Suns talent in the eyes of longtime Fox 10 broadcaster Jude LaCava.

“There’s been great players in the 50-year history of the Phoenix Suns,” he said, “MVP’s, clutch performers, great coaches, hall of fame executives. But in my mind, there’s only been one true legend, Connie Hawkins.”

Known for his athleticism and high-flying play, former Suns executive Tom Ambrose described even the best sports media’s inability to conceptualize Hawkins’ game in writing.

“Connie Hawkins’ game was a work of art. Sometimes poetry in motion, sometimes still life,” he said.

After his playing days, Hawkins served as a Suns community ambassador, and LaCava said fans hardly ever were denied the chance for an autograph, picture or just an opportunity to meet one of the greatest Suns ever.

A standout player both at the professional level but also on his home courts in New York City, Hawkins was remembered equally as extremely relatable and likeable.

“He had the best sense of humor and a smile that could win over anyone,” LaCava said.

Following the speakers, a rendition of Hawkins’ favorite church hymn, “Open my Heart,” was sung and projected over the speaker system.

As fans left the arena, it was clear each person had a particular fond recollection of one of the most memorable Suns ever, and that the basketball world parted with one of its greats.

“As I think about Connie Hawkins, I have nothing but wonderful memories about all the things that we shared together. So I’m just going to end it by saying, ‘Thanks, Hawk, take care,'” Colangelo said.

A funeral was also held for Hawkins in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York, on Monday.