The NBA in St. Louis

The team you never realized St. Louis had – The St. Louis Hawks

1958 St. Louis Hawks

1958 St. Louis Hawks

Let me take you way back to 1955 when the NBA was nowhere near as popular as it is today. Ticket sales were low, jerseys were made out of cotton and the three-point shot didn’t even exist. At this point in time, there were only eight teams in the entire league.

1955 Eastern Division Standings

1. Syracuse Nationals (43-29)

2. New York Knicks (38-24)

3. Boston Celtics (36-36)

4. Philadelphia Warriors (33-39)

 1955 Western Division Standings

1. Fort Wayne Pistons (43-29)

2. Minneapolis Lakers (40-32)

3. Rochester Royals (29-43)

4. Milwaukee Hawks (26-46)

You can see where many of the iconic teams we know today, started out. The Lakers eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1960 where they remain to this day. The Fort Wayne Pistons moved  to Detroit in 1957, where they still remain as well. But other teams were still figuring themselves out, and expansion was vital to growing the league.

So, with a poor last place record for four straight seasons, Milwaukee had to make a change. The team moved to St. Louis, with the goal of building a successful franchise in this new market. In their first draft as a St. Louis team, they drafted the future Hall of Fame player Bill Russell—and traded him immediately to the Boston Celtics where he would go on to win 11 NBA Finals. That’s right, eleven—including eight in a row at one point.

The trade deal, however, was not a total failure. The Hawks were able to receive two future Hall of Fame players, Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan. The team ended up making the playoffs in all but one season until 1973. 

In 1958, the Hawks beat Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. This was the Hawks franchise’s only championship and St. Louis would end up being in the Finals four times, facing Boston each and every time, only winning once. The Celtics of course won 11 championships, so we can see who got the better end of the Russell deal.

Over the following years in the 1960s, the St. Louis team managed weak players and a struggling record. The best players averaged about 12 points a game, injuries were incredibly common and at one point there was even a player-coach by the name of Richie Guerin. Under Guerin, the team won 28 out of 47 games and finished in second place for the 1964-1965 season.

In the 1967-1968 season, the Hawks had their best season in St. Louis with a 56-26 record and finished in first place. They quickly were caught off guard in the first round of the playoffs and lost to the San Francisco Warriors in a six-game series. Fans in St. Louis were quickly surprised to find out that the owner had sold the Hawks to a Georgia real estate developer, who moved the team to Atlanta. Thus, forming the Atlanta Hawks as we know them today.

The city of St. Louis has yet to see a return of NBA Basketball since the Hawks left for Atlanta but there was an ABA basketball team that was here for two seasons called the Spirits of St. Louis, which had future stars like Moses Malone. Bob Costas, the legendary sports announcer, got his start with the Spirits just out of college. The city of St. Louis has always been considered a possible location for an NBA team whenever talk about expansion comes up and is long awaiting a return of NBA Basketball.