Publish date:

How many free throws do you get for a foul that took eight years to settle?

Connie Hawkins was born in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant section, in the middle of that melancholy summer of '42, with few prospects of improving upon the ghetto life-style he inherited from his parents. A shy, unassuming youth who was 5'10" by the age of 10, Connie was the neighborhood punching bag until his basketball skills rescued him. He made All-New York City as a senior at Boys High in Brooklyn, and the night he graduated was voted the most valuable player in an East-West All-Star game that included Jeff Mullins, Joe Caldwell, Barry Kramer, Paul Silas and George Wilson—all of whom would find employment in the NBA four years later. Connie Hawkins would wait twice as long.

It was his misfortune to be caught in the swirls of a college basketball gambling scandal in 1961, when he was a freshman at Iowa. Blacklisted by the NBA without ever having been convicted of wrongdoing, Hawkins lived like a nomad for eight years until his lawsuit was settled and he joined the Phoenix Suns to become an NBA All-Star.

Foul! (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $7.95) by David Wolf is an extension of the author's 1969 article in LIFE, which first pleaded Hawkins' innocence and helped demonstrate the strength of his legal case to the NBA. As a result of the facts contained in Wolf's article and more than 10,000 man-hours of work by his lawyers, Hawkins was awarded $850,000 in damages and allowed to enter the league as a 27-year-old rookie. Some rookie. By that time he had already been the leading scorer and MVP his "rookie" seasons in both the old ABL and the ABA. In between he spent four punishing years on the road with the Harlem Globetrotters. Although the scandal dominates the book as it has Hawkins' life, Wolf covers the years in exile as though he had kept a diary. Actually, he had never met Hawkins before 1969.

The mere length of Foul! indicates it isn't a typical piece of jock journalism. There aren't even any sports pictures, but mug shots might have been appropriate for most of the protagonists. Besides a pair of hustlers who went to prison for fixing games, there is a player who involved Hawkins because of something he'd heard secondhand, an alma mater that was at least culpable in his troubles, a New York D.A. who was able to get a questionable confession out of Hawkins after a week's interrogation, and finally NBA Commissioner Walter Kennedy, who believed it all.

Wolf's book is remarkable for its recitation of wrongs that nearly ruined Connie Hawkins' life and wasted his talents. In his case, the NBA was guilty not only of a technical foul but a personal one as well.