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Relocated NBA Teams: The Milwaukee Hawks

The Milwaukee Hawks were a professional basketball team that played in the NBA from 1951 to 1955.The Hawks franchise is still in existence today in the form of the Atlanta Hawks. The franchise was formed in 1946 as the Buffalo Bisons before relocating to Moline in the Tri-Cities region and adopting the name Tri-Cities Blackhawks. After the region was deemed too small to support an NBA franchise, the team relocated to Milwaukee in 1951, shortening the Blackhawks moniker to just Hawks. The team’s moniker was an allusion to the Blackhawk War which took place in the Tri-Cities region. The Hawks’ home strip for most of their time in Milwaukee was blue and white, adopted after they abandoned the red and white one they had been using in the Tri-Cities region. The Milwaukee Arena, nicknamed the Mecca, played host to the Milwaukee Hawks home games.

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The change of strips seemingly did not have the desired effect on the court. If the Milwaukee Hawks’ record in competition was anything to write home about, then it was for all the wrong reasons. The team did not manage to escape last place in the Western Division even once during their four years in Milwaukee. Their first season, 1951/52 ended in a 17-49 record that was the worst in the league. Despite the poor performance, Mel Hutchins finished joint second in the league in rebounding, with 13.3 rebounds per game. The next season, they improved their win tally by 10 points to make it 27-44 but they still finished last in their division. Another terrible performance followed in 1953/54 as they again finished last with a 22-51 record. In 1954/55, the Hawks were again stuck in last place with a 26-46 record despite changing coaches prior to the season’s beginning. The star performer of the team was rookie Bob Petit who was fourth in the league in scoring, averaging 20.4 points per game.

On March 7, 1954, the Hawks faced a David and Goliath test as they had to play the formidable Minneapolis Lakers who were led by George Mikan. Mikan had been so good that the NBA decided to experiment with twelve foot high baskets just to slow him down. In contrast to their whipping boy image, the Hawks went neck and neck for the first few spells of the game and the changes introduced by the NBA seemed to be working as the game largely passed by Mikan. There would be no joy for the Hawks however as Vern Mikkelsen, another big Lakers man scored 17 points in the last quarter condemning the Hawks to a 65-63 loss. The high baskets were deemed punitive to the small players rather than big players and the league did not introduce it as a permanent feature.

Why the Milwaukee Hawks were Relocated

During the four years in Milwaukee, the team barely won one out of every three games and was consistently near the bottom of the conference. The Hawks’ scanty success is the main factor that contributed to fan apathy and lowered attendance figures. The team’s revenues also fell significantly and were among the lowest in the league. In 1953, baseball’s Milwaukee Braves which was owned by Lou Perini came to Milwaukee and was renamed the Milwaukee Braves. The new team, which was much more successful dominated the market and overshadowed the Hawks in the area. Following the 1954/55 season, barely five years after the team had moved into town, owner Ben Kerner, decided it was time to pack up again. Kerner set his eyes on St. Louis Missouri, a city with twice the population of Milwaukee, higher income, and had no NBA team. There was also a ready stadium, the 10,000-seat Kiel Auditorium. Kerner’s application to move the team was approved by the NBA and the Hawks moved into the Kiel Auditorium ready for the next 1955/56 season. The team was renamed St. Louis Hawks and enjoyed comparably greater success on the pitch and financially than in Milwaukee. Barely three years later, the Hawks won the NBA title. Meanwhile starting 1968, the city of Milwaukee would host another NBA franchise, the Milwaukee Bucks which enjoyed much more popularity than the Hawks and exists to date.

Milwaukee Hawks Notable Players

Mel Hutchins C 1951-1953

Don Otten C 1951-1953

Chuck Share C 1953-1955

Bob Pettit PF 1954/55

Bill Calhoun SF 1952-1955

Don Sunderlage G 1953/54

Don Boven SG 1951-1953

Dillard Crocker PF 1951-1953

George Ratkocivz PF 1952-1955

Jack Nichols PF 1952-1954

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