My first venture into blogging involved creating a web site, sportsographies.blogspot.com, which would entail writing book reviews of sports-related biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs.
The venture only lasted about two months and included just five book reviews.
Since I want to get all of my blog posts in one place, I also noted that I will periodically post one of those old blog posts to my new site at Borden’s Blog.
And so that’s what tonight’s post is, my very first blog post, and it was of the first book I read that really got me looking at sports in a different, more critical way. Here is that post, from July 2012, which tells the story, at first, of a tragic tale that eventually becomes one of redemption.
Even though it’s been 40 years (now almost 50) since I first read this book, it’s the first one that came to mind when I thought about creating this blog. I was 14 years old at the time, and loved everything about sports (despite not being very good at most of them). However, after reading Foul, while my love for sports was not diminished, I started taking a more discerning look at sports and what was going on behind the scenes.
Foul is the story of Connie Hawkins (“The Hawk”), a former NBA basketball player and an all-time playground legend on the courts of New York City. Connie grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and his family was among the poorest of the poor. He started playing basketball when he was eight years old at the local community center, and by the age of 12 was playing regularly in the schoolyards during the summer. School was never Connie’s strong point, and his lack of basic academic skills were overlooked throughout his school years. By the time he got to high school, Connie was one of the best players his age in the city.As a high school junior, Hawkins averaged in low double figures and helped Boys to an unbeaten season and the Public School Athletic championship. The New York Post named him All-City first team. As a 6-foot-6, 190-pound senior, Hawkins averaged 25.5 points (with a high game of 60) and led Boys to its second consecutive unbeaten season and PSAL championship. He was hailed as the finest prospect to come out of New York City. Connie was selected as New York’s top schoolboy player and as first-team All-American by Parade Magazine.
Despite having a seventh-grade reading-level and an IQ of 65, about 250 colleges sought Hawkins. Recruiters took him to dinner and slipped him cash or basketball tickets; Connie ended up at University of Iowa. Because of his week academic background, he did not meet the minimum standards for an athletic scholarship, but Iowa was able to devise a complicated scheme for paying him under the table by arranging a bogus job at a local gas station. Connie only had to show up on payday, and his salary would cover his tuition plus room and board. A wealthy Iowa alum also sent Connie $150 per month for his other expenses, which to Connie was a windfall.
It was during the summer prior to going to Iowa that Connie met Jack Molinas, a former NBA star who had been banned from the league for betting on games in 1954. However, by 1960 Molinas was not only a successful lawyer but also the key figure in a nationwide gambling operation that was bribing college players to fix basketball games. Molinas was someone many youngsters on the playgrounds of New York looked up to. He befriended Connie, with the eventual plan to use Connie to start shaving points at the start of his sophomore year. Connie was completely unaware of Molinas’ intentions, and just viewed him as another white guy who gave him small favors because he was a good basketball player.
Connie had sensational freshmen year at Iowa, at least on the court. The classroom was another story, where Connie struggled and was in danger of being kept on academic probation, and thus ineligible for a scholarship his sophomore year. The current payment arrangement was too risky once Connie stepped into the national spotlight as a varsity player. While Connie worried about his grades, the Athletic Department was confident it could “work something out”. However, that all came crashing down when detectives from New York city came to Iowa.
The detectives were there to find out about Connie’s role in the point-shaving scandal that rocked college basketball. When Connie first met the detectives, he did not even know what point-shaving meant. However, because of his association with Molinas, the detectives thought Connie was involved, specifically as someone who introduced other college players to Molinas and his associates for the purpose of using those players as part of the point-shaving scheme. The detectives asked Connie to go back to New York City with them, for just a couple of days. but he ended up being gone for two weeks. It was during this time that his life fell apart.
Faced with unrelenting pressure from the detectives, Connie eventually was worn down and started admitting his involvement in the scandal. The reason? Hawkins was frightened and thought he would be put in jail if he did not tell the police what they wanted to hear. Connie ended up testifying to a grand jury which ended up indicting Joe Hacken, one of the key figures in the point-shaving scandal. Molinas and Hacken were quite clear in their testimony however, that Hawkins was never involved in the scandal, but their words fell on deaf ears.
As a result of his self-incriminating testimony, Connie was asked to leave the University of Iowa, and his life became a shambles. Nobody wanted anything to do with Connie, and he avoided like the plague back home in New York City. Since he was ineligible for the NBA (and would have been blacklisted anyway) Connie ended up playing for the newly formed American Basketball League, and became a star, winning the MVP award. However, the league did not last long, and he then joined the Harlem Globetrotters. During his time with the Globetrotters, he filed a lawsuit against the NBA, claiming that he was unfairly banned from the league, and there was no evidence indicating that he had been a part of the college point-shaving scandal. After three years with the Globetrotters, Connie left to join the American Basketball Association, leading Pittsburgh to the team championship in 1968 and earned the league’s MVP trophy.
In the meantime, the lawsuit dragged on, and in 1969 an article about Connie was written in Life magazine that helped push the NBA to a settlement. As part of the settlement, Connie was assigned to the Phoenix Suns, an expansion team in the NBA. It had taken eight years, but Connie had finally achieved his goal of playing basketball with and against the best players in the world. He more than held his own playing against some of the all-time greats, such as Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Elvin Hayes.
What is remarkable about Connie’s story is that he never seemed to harbor resentment or complain about his misfortunes. He took advantages of opportunities as they arose, and grew as a person as a result of his difficulties. It was a pleasure to reread this again as an adult, and is a book I highly recommend.
Postscript: Connie played in the NBA for seven seasons, and was chosen as an All-Star from 1970-73. Despite not having played in the NBA during his prime years, Connie was selected to the NBA Hall of Fame in 1992.