Chicago has been referred to as the Mecca of the NBA. During the Coronavirus suspension, TV and social media has entertained fans with reruns of great games from the 80s and 90s. It has me thinking about what home town players from back then may not have gotten the recognition they deserved during or after their NBA career.
Other Chicago players who starred in high school have not been as fortunate.
Jabari Parker starred at Simeon High School becoming the first two-time Illinois Mr. Basketball winner. He was named Team USA basketball 2011 Male Athlete of the Year, the Gatorade national player of the year and ESPNChicago.com’s player of the year.
However, the NBA has not been kind to Parker. In six seasons he has played on six different teams and has a reputation for not playing defense.
Anthony Davis “Chicago is the Mecca of basketball and you can quote me on that” pic.twitter.com/NfuLAxYMMZ
— Tony Gill (@thetonygill) July 19, 2019
The greatest talent in Chicago high school basketball history may have been Ben Wilson, another Simeon alum, who played there with future NBA player Nick Anderson. Wilson was considered the No. 1 player in America when he was tragically murdered in 1984, eight months after helping Simeon win its first city and state championships.
In 2012, ESPN released a documentary called “Benji” describing how his death changed the city. In a more recent, yet to be released, documentary called “Both Sides of the Gun: A Story of Reconciliation“, Ben Wilson’s brothers and his killer tell their stories of that tragic day.
Yet, while Wilson and Anderson were leading Simeon, Westinghouse high school, who already produced stars Eddie Johnson and Aguirre, had a player that not too many people were talking about. It is even hard to find any information regarding his high school career despite him setting scoring records in college and spending 13 years in the NBA.
That player is none other than Hersey Hawkins, whose number 33 has been retired by the Bradley Braves. While at Bradley, Hawkins became the 1988 NCAA AP Player of the Year, won back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Awards, as well as the Oscar Robertson and Adolph Rupp trophies.
Only one player, Kevin Bradshaw, has averaged more points in an NCAA season since Hawkins led Division I with 36.3 points per game his senior year. To this day, he is still the all-time scoring leader of the Missouri Valley Conference.
In 1988 “Hawk” became the sixth overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft. His rights were immediately traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Philadelphia 76ers. He spent four seasons in Philadelphia as the second scoring option to Sir Charles Barkley. He made all-rookie first team in 1989 and by 1991 was an all-star averaging 22.1 points a game.
After Philly, Hawkins spent two years in Charlotte and then four in Seattle. He became a member of the Supersonics team that went 64-17 and eventually lost to his hometown Chicago Bulls in the 1996 NBA finals.
There he settled on being only the fourth scoring option after Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf. Yet, his presence as a three-point scorer and solid defender played a key role in the team’s success. In 1999, his last season in Seattle, he was voted the NBA Sportsmanship award presented to the player who most “exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship on the court with ethical behavior, fair play, and integrity”.
Hersey put up averages of 16.4, 3.8 amd 3.1, while playing 34.6 MPG during his first ten seasons in the league. He only missed seven games during that decade and played five straight seasons without missing any. Load management was not something Hawkins practiced.
Hawkins now is in his 11th season as the Player Programs Director for the Portland Trail Blazers. He is responsible for building strong relationships with the players as well as their families, agents and business associates. Since his retirement, Hawkins has also worked as a TV analyst for both NBA and college broadcasts while coaching all three of his sons as an assistant at Estrella Foothills High School in Goodyear, Ariz. Hawkins and his wife have been married for 31 years.
Hawkins recently visited his college alma mater, Bradley for the first time in 20 years. There he received a standing ovation even from the younger fans who never witnessed him play. He is highly respected and appreciated wherever he goes.
You cannot ask for a better role model representing the city of Chicago.
Hersey Hawkins probably will not make the Naismith Hall of Fame. But when discussing the top players out of the Mecca, his name has to be up there among the all time greats. There is little doubt that in today’s NBA with an emphasis on the three-point shot and small ball, Hersey Hawkins would have been a name we hear more often when discussing the greatest players and shooters out of Chicago.