Editor’s Note: The modern era of the NBA is generally accepted to have begun with the 1979-80 season, the advent of the 3-point line in the NBA. The lists to follow—one for each of the NBA’s 30 teams—will only consider seasons since 1979-80. We continue the series today with the best of the Atlanta Hawks.
The Atlanta Hawks’ roots go back further than most fans may even be aware of, all the way to Buffalo, N.Y., in 1946.
The Buffalo Bisons began the 1946-47 National Basketball League season, but just 13 games into their first season, owner Ben Kerner pulled the plug and moved the team to Moline, Ill., where it was rechristened the Tri-Cities Blackhawks—acknowledging the neighboring cities of Rock Island, Ill., and Davenport, Iowa.
The Blackhawks didn’t make the playoffs that first year, but they did in each of their next two NBL campaigns, losing in the Western Division Semifinals to the powerful Minneapolis Lakers and George Mikan in 1948 and to the Oshkosh All-Stars in the 1949 division semis.
At that point, the Blackhawks were part of the merger between the NBL and the Basketball Association of America that formed the modern-day NBA.
The Blackhawks were again a playoff team in their first year in the NBA, under a future Hall of Fame coach named Red Auerbach—in his only season in Tri-Cities before he left in a dispute with Kerner over the owner trading a player without consulting the coach.
In 1951, the team moved to Milwaukee and shortened its name to the Hawks. They would remain in Milwaukee for four seasons—all last place finishes—before jumping to St. Louis in 1955.
In 1957, the Hawks made the NBA Finals for the first time, losing to the Boston Celtics. They got their revenge in 1958, winning the only title in franchise history by beating Boston—the only team ever to do so in the Bill Russell era.
St. Louis would go back to the Finals in 1960 and 1961, but were thumped both times by Boston.
The team was on the move again in 1968, this time to Atlanta, where they’ve been ever since.
As an NBA franchise, the Hawks have made the playoffs 43 times in 65 seasons, but have not advanced further than the conference semifinals since the league was realigned into the Eastern and Western conferences in 1970-71.
Richie Guerin, who coached the Hawks in both St. Louis and Atlanta for parts of eight seasons, is the winningest coach in franchise history with a record of 327-291. Mike Fratello went 324-253 in parts of eight seasons in the 1980s and Lenny Wilkens was 310-232 from 1993-94 through 1999-2000. In all, 28 men have coached the Hawks.
The list of general managers is a shorter one. Kerner had the job from the time the team came into the NBA until November 1960, when he finally hired a GM, Marty Blake, who had the job from November 1960 until April 1970.
Stan Kasten followed a string of short-tenured GMs with a long period of stability from November 1979 through February 1990 and his successor, Pete Babcock, had the gig from February 1990 to April 2003.
Current GM Danny Ferry was hired as the franchise’s 15th general manager in June 2012.
The Hawks set a franchise record with 57 wins in 1986-87 and matched that mark in 1993-94. The low-water mark came in 2004-05, when Atlanta was just 13-69—the five worst seasons in franchise history in terms of losses came during a period from 1999-2000 through 2005-06.
Here are the best players, by position, for the Atlanta Hawks in the modern era, beginning in 1979-80. Players had to have played 200 games for the franchise and averaged 25 minutes per game.