Looking Back on the Atlanta Hawks Best Season Ever


It’s hard to put into words just how special the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks were.  Only twice before has one of our professional teams come out of nowhere and taken our city by storm.  The 1991 Atlanta Braves did it with the Tomahawk Chop.  The 1998 Atlanta Falcons did it with the Dirty Bird.  And now the 2015 Atlanta Hawks did it with The Streak.

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In the month of January, the Atlanta Hawks did not lose a single game, going 17-0.  A superstar-less team won 19 straight games and 33 of 36 during the first half of the season.  The team eclipsed its previous season’s win total before the All-Star Break.  A third of the Eastern Conference’s roster was Atlanta Hawks.  The Eastern squad had Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer to lead them, who went on to win NBA Coach of the Year.  The entire Atlanta Hawks starting five (Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, and Al Horford) were January’s Eastern Conference Players of the Month.  Their was not a more pleasant surprise in the NBA this season than the Atlanta Hawks’ meteoric rise to elite status.

During the offseason, I knew that Coach Bud’s team would improve its Eastern Conference Playoff seeding in Year Two of his Atlanta tenure.  The face of the franchise PF/C Al Horford would return from a season-ending pectoral tear to give his team lift in 2014-15.  I thought Atlanta could contend with Charlotte, Miami and Washington for the Southeastern Division crown.  I thought 45-50 wins and a 3-seed would be a realistic goal for this team in Coach Bud’s second season.  And if the Hawks had favorable matchups, the team could make it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time.  Then the most magical and crazy season happened.

It all started off on a very somber note with the Bruce Levenson/Danny Ferry scandal where racist comments made by the Hawks front office about a free agent Luol Deng made for a national embarrassment.  This NBA team that had struggled to find a loyal fan base further alienated its regional market.  Levenson put the team up for sale and Ferry went into exile.  Coach Bud and CEO Steve Koonin were left to pick up the pieces and try to build something positive.

Through the first few games, Atlanta looked pedestrian, on pace for a low playoff seed and a probable first-round exit. After getting pummeled by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Coach Bud ignited his team to commit to defensive excellence.  Led by the Junkyard Dog, DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta went from a team better known for its perimeter shooting to a team that could guard anybody.  The team finally embraced Coach Bud’s Popovichian coaching philosophies.  And the league wasn’t ready for it.

Feb 4, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Mike Scott (32) celebrates a dunk as Washington Wizards forward Kris Humphries (43) is shown after the play in the fourth quarter of their game at Philips Arena. Hawks won 105-96. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

For each of us, I believe that there was one game that made us fall in love with this team.  It’s not the same for everyone, but everybody has one.  For me, it was the game at the Moda Center against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Before injuries derailed a promising Portland team, the Blazers were a sexy pick to come out of the West.  It’s a very tough task to win in Portland, even when the Blazers are just okay.  But Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge were obvious All-Stars and Terry Stotts’ team was gelling then.  Coach Bud told his team to attack the paint religiously against the Blazers’ imposing big men.  Coming out of the Pacific Northwest with a victory legitimized this Hawks team for me.

May 13, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) makes the game-winning basket against Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) in the fourth quarter of game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 82-81. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Not even a year ago, the Hawks would play in front a half-empty Philips Arena.  Now nearly every home game sold out.  The Hawks did not lose back-to-back home games until the Conference Finals this season.  The Highlight Factory became a tough place to play seemingly overnight.

By just getting to the Conference Finals, it does so much for our team’s reputation and brand.  The Atlanta Hawks will play games on national television next year.  Free agents will want to come play for Coach Bud.  And most importantly, people in the City of Atlanta want to go to Hawks games.  Winning and a team-first mentality has brought this city together again.  Because of this year’s success, the Atlanta Hawks now have the city’s attention and full support for the next several seasons, regardless of outcome.

This type of meteoric rise to prominence happens in a metropolitan region once in a generation.  I remember this fall watching the Kansas City Royals make the playoffs for the first time in almost three decades and nearly win the World Series.  To see a team succeed after so many years of hardship made me wonder if I was ever going to find myself in the midst of something that magical.  Little did any of us know that the Atlanta Hawks were going to captivate an entire region this past winter.

Though our team came up short of the ultimate prize, did any of us think that the Hawks were title contenders back in August?  I seriously doubt it.  But that is what made this season so special, defying all odds and nearly going the distance.  As painful as last night’s season ending sweep felt, I wouldn’t trade witnessing first-hand the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks’ journey to playoff relevance for anything.  Atlanta will remember this team for generations.  I have never been more proud of a team in my entire life.  I can’t wait to cheer on my Atlanta Hawks next fall.