Fortunately for Hawkins, in the seven years since he left Iowa two talent-hungry pro leagues were formed that chose to overlook his and others' roles in the scandals. As a 20-year-old he played in the short-lived American Basketball League, where he was the high scorer and most valuable player. After that folded, in its second season, he went with the Globetrotters for four years before joining the ABA last season.
Bill Erickson, a prime mover in founding the ABA who now heads the Minnesota franchise, says the decision to allow tarnished talent to play was based on thorough investigations. "We demanded that the players had never been convicted, and they had to have top references on their behavior since the fixes," says Erickson. "So far it has been beautiful. We have about a dozen of these players and four of them are All-Stars. Connie is my team leader and the best thing I've got going for me."
Playing in the ABA hardly satisfies Hawkins. "It killed me not to be able to play in the NBA—that's all I thought of as a kid," he says. Ironically, because of a financial squeeze, he may still get his chance. The time is not far off when the economic facts of life may prove too much for NBA owners, particularly if Lew Alcindor chooses the ABA. Already one NBA coach has begun lobbying for the league to negotiate a settlement with the ABA before the high rookie bonuses and lower pay of veterans ruin the morale of his team.
For his part, Hawkins has been clearing the way for possible NBA acceptance by coming on someplace between apple pie and the American Legion. Married, with two small children, he has conducted ghetto basketball climes and not only signs autographs willingly, but sits and chats with the towheaded Minnesota kids after Pipers' games.
Before a home game last week the Marine color guard marched onto the floor, and Joe Tomaszewski and his Northeasterners struck up the national anthem. On the floor the players stood fidgeting, itching to start the game. All of them but Connie Hawkins, the outlaw superstar. He was singing The Star-Spangled Banner.