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As everyone out there who has ever been traded for Pete Maravich knows, there are two species of Atlanta Hawks. One is the old craggy type—not really a hawk at all, but more like a buzzard—who comes with patched-together elbows, a blond twin brother and fond remembrances of playing days with the Pittsburgh Rens. Now that's old. The other type is the Youngblood Hawk, exemplified by infants who are still so fresh, new and unwary that their coach, Cotton Fitzsimmons says, "They weren't in college long enough to learn how to eat." In truth two of Cotton's men (boys? children? Hawklets?) should still be in college, and a third never did make it there from high school.
This disparity in age groups becomes apparent during periods such as a practice session the other day when the semi-legendary Hawk himself, Connie Hawkins, who is either 31, 33 or 74, depending on whether you believe the man, the record book or the occasional creaky effort, fed a pass to the equally wizened Lou Hudson for a whirling, running hook shot. " Cliff Hagan! Cliff Hagan! Dance on 'em, Cliff," Hawkins roared. After which he realized that half his teammates had no idea who Cliff Hagan was.
"Cliff who?" said Mike Sojourner, who is playing out his senior year at the University of Utah as a Hawk center.
Bill (Don't Call Me Poodle) Willoughby, who is sitting out his college freshman year on the Hawk bench, was unavailable for comment.
No disease has yet hit the Hawks. Their 13-9 record through last weekend was the best in the Central Division and represents a splendid turnabout from last spring, when they finished somewhere in underground Atlanta, searching for the draft rights to David Thompson.
Such improvement without the aid of Thompson or the other turncoat draftee, Marvin Webster—both of whom were waylaid by Denver—can be attributed to the quick blending of the young and the old, the thoughtful platooning of the strong and the lame and the individual skills of the greatest tattooed offensive re-bounder in the history of the world.
"It is true that nobody has ever seen a player like John Drew before," says John Drew in a customary outburst of humility. Drew has a heart on his leg, the name "Joe" on one arm, the initial "J" on the other—all tattoos done up just so by a young cousin when Drew was eight years old. " India ink and a needle," Drew says. "An amateur job. I wanted 'Boss' over the heart, but the needle hurt so bad."
Lately Atlanta has hurt the NBA's best teams likewise so bad. While displaying the aggravating habit of losing to weak clubs, the Hawks have beaten Golden State, Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston and Washington; in other words, all of this year's and last year's division leaders except Chicago, whom they haven't played yet and who don't count anyway.