Era Of The St. Louis Hawks
Webster Groves resident and sports specialist Greg Marecek has penned "Full Court: The Untold Stories of the St. Louis Hawks"
By Don Corrigan

April 28, 2006
Greg Marecek remembers a time in the NBA when there were no $10 million basketball players, no $300 million teams, no prima donnas with lucrative ad contracts. He remembers the era of the St. Louis Hawks.

Marecek, a sports specialist and Webster Groves loyalist, recently released, "Full Court: The Untold Stories of the St. Louis Hawks." It's a tale of a simpler and more loveable game of professional basketball, a time when St. Louis had its own National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise.

For local babyboomers, whose dads once took them to see the Hawks in action at the Kiel or the Arena, the book will bring back fond memories of Bob Pettit, Lenny Wilkens, Cliff Hagan, Zelmo Beaty and more. For younger sports enthusiasts, the book will raise some troubling questions: How did we lose our team? Will we ever get basketball back in St. Louis?

"For someone who grew up going to Hawks' games, it seems strange that a whole generation has not known pro basketball in St. Louis," said Marecek, who is a past owner and now a consultant with KFNS 590 sports radio. "But the coming of the Hawks to St. Louis may be the most important sports story in St. Louis history."

That statement may sound like the hyperbole of an over-eager author out to sell his sports book, but Marecek makes the case that the basketball Hawks helped put St. Louis on the map as a great U.S. sports town.

"The Hawks came at a time when the baseball Cardinals were the only pro team in town, and they were limping," said Marecek. "We were on a downward spiral. But the Hawks came and succeeded so well, it made St. Louis attractive for football and it made it possible for the Blues as an expansion team here."

Marecek covers a lot of ground in his richly-illustrated "Full Court," with anecdotes, interviews and facts gathered from the team's players. He shows how certain "twists of fate" propelled the Hawks to become a perennial power in the NBA for more than a decade from 1955 to 1968.

In addition to paying homage to the superstar players, who performed at salaries ranging from $10,000 to a whopping $25,000, Marecek notes the pivotal roles of management figures and, of course, the voice of the Hawks -- broadcaster Buddy Blattner.

"The players will tell you that Buddy Blattner was key in making the Hawks big in St. Louis," said Marecek. "He had a velvet voice, and he still has it. He brought an on-air vocabulary to the game that fans who listened to him will never forget."

Nicknames That Stuck

During the course of more than 2,000 hours of play-by-play coverage, Blattner created nicknames that stuck - in a good way - they were never belittling or insulting. Those monickers provide one of the fun appendices in the book, as baby boomer Hawks' fans will recall:

Bob Pettit as "Big Blue." Known also as "The Bombardier from Baton Rouge," Pettit will be celebrated forever for his 50-point championship game performance in 1958 in an NBA doubleheader in a packed Kiel Auditorium.

Cliff Hagan as "Lil' Abner." Tagged with the name of the popular comic strip character, handsome Hagan captured the fancy of fans with his patented hook shot and his squared-up jumpers.

Ed Macauley as "Easy Ed." This nickname actually originated during Macauley's famous playing days at St. Louis University, but stuck in his NBA career because he made the challenge of shooting hoops look easy.

Dugie Martin as "Tornado from Texas." Although Martin was often the smallest man on the court, he was a great performer from the University of Texas.

Alex Hannum as "Sgt. York." He was a bruiser who played a tough, physical game. According to Blattner, Hannum was a "take no prisoners" kind of player.

Clyde Lovellette as "Boom Boom." A deputy sheriff in the off-season, he drew fast on the basketball court and always outgunned his opponents.

As a sports writer, national sports syndicator and sports radio owner for more than three decades, Marecek thought he had heard it all. However, in the process of researching his book, he picked up tidbits that he shares with readers.

For example, Boston Celtics owner Walter Brown balked at trading "Easy Ed" to St. Louis against his wishes. Macauley agreed to come back to his home turf when his young son, Patrick, was stricken with severe spinal meningitis.

The New York Knicks served as a "go-between" to get Slater Martin to the Hawks from Minneapolis. And a St. Louis sportswriter played a covert role in the conniving to get the much-needed ball handler to St. Louis.

Lenny Wilkens, who has entered the NBA Hall of Fame as both a player and a basketball coach, was brought to St. Louis by then-general manager Ed Macauley. Wilkens' response to Macauley's $7,000 job offer: "That'll be fine."

Meet The Legends

Hawks fans will be able to meet author Marecek and NBA Hall of Famers Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan when they meet at the St. Louis County Library, 1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd., at 3 p.m. on Friday, May 12.

Among other basketball legends at the event will be Ed Macauley, Charlie Share, Al Ferrari, Buddy Blattner and Harry Gallatin. Rawlings Sporting Goods is a co-sponsor of the event. Left Bank Books will sell copies of the book at the library event. Prior to that event, a book signing will take place at Talbots Men's Shop at noon at Plaza Frontenac.

Of course, a couple of the issues that will undoubtedly come up at the library event are: How did St. Louis lose the Hawks? Why don't we have an NBA team now?

"I feel that racism in St. Louis played a role," said Marecek. "When black stars like Bob Cousy and Bill Russell came to town with the Boston Celtics, and there was no restaurant downtown that would serve them -- that hurt St. Louis in a number of ways."

As the Hawks acquired more black players, some fans made it known that they were dropping their season tickets. "Why don't you just change your name to the Globetrotters?" wrote one angry fan to the Hawks' front office.

"Racism played some role, but neither the players nor management think that was important in the loss of the Hawks," said Marecek. "More important was that the city would not fix the Kiel up, even as the city promised to refurbish the Arena for the Hockey Blues."

Does St. Louis ever have a chance of acquiring an NBA team again? Marecek said he thinks "yes." He said he's seen polls of local fans who say they'd rather go to an NBA game than to an NHL hockey game by a factor of 2-1.

"I am sure there's an NBA team that would consider coming to St. Louis now," said Marecek. "I would like to see us get the Hawks back from Atlanta. It would be great to see them back in St. Louis."

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