By Brian Taylor
In the early 90’s, everyone knew who the Eastern Conference’s top squads were: the Bad Boy Pistons, the Celtics (on the decline, but still good), da Bulls and Charles Barkley’s 76ers. Those Philly teams with Barkley, Rick Mahorn and the like were always a threat to knock off one of the East’s perennial finalists, and one guy who helped bring Philly to that point in the playoffs was one Hersey R. Hawkins Jr.
Coming out of Bradley University in the Windy City, Hersey was drafted 6th overall in the 1988 Draft, featuring guys like Danny Manning, Dan Majerle and Rik Smits. He was actually just coming off a bronze medal performance in the Seoul Olympics alongside David Robinson and Mitch Richmond (coached by John Thompson). Often the second scoring option behind the Chuckster, Hersey was known in the late 90’s for his long-range prowess and deadly jumper. The rhyming backcourt of Hawkins and Dawkins took Philly to the conference semis, only to fall to You-Know-Who and the Bulls. In 1991, he earned his first All-Star berth, playing alongside Barkley.
What most folks remember about Hersey was that he was the “anti-Charles” so to speak, a soft-spoken guy who let his play do the talking. Everyone knew Charles was getting the ball in the clutch, but having Hawkins on the team made Charles a great decoy as well, with him kicking it out the “Hawk” for another 3-point dagger. The guy was a warrior on the hardwood as well, having only missed seven games in his first decade in the league. At the free-throw line, he showed folks how it was supposed to be done, never dropping below 83% on his shots.
After the Charles-to-Phoenix fallout, the Sixers looked to rebuild, and thusly sent Hersey to an up and coming Charlotte squad (for Dana Barros) that had Hawkins teamed up with everybody’s favorite little guy, Muggsy Bogues. His two years with the Hornets were productive, but Charlotte needed a taller guard to go with Muggsy. So in 1995, “Hawk” was shipped to the Sonics along with David Wingate for Kendall Gill.
It was in Seattle that Hersey has the most success. Alongside G.P. and a sober Shawn Kemp, the Sonics would wreck the Western Conference in 1996, landing them in the NBA Finals against the M.J. Dynasty. Whenever Kemp had his obligatory mental lapses, Payton would find Hawkins on the wing for open jumpers. Contested or uncontested, more often than not, those shots were going down, even garnering defensive attention from Jordan himself.
Hawkins was possibly the first real great “role player”, having taken backseats to the likes of Barkley, Mourning, Payton and Kemp, never seeking the spotlight. I know of a certain National Olympic Basketball team that could’ve used a sharp shooting role-player type guy that could play some defense … not that I’m bitter or anything.
Hersey never really fell off, just got caught up by Father Time (which is about 33 by NBA standards). After Seattle blew their team up for rebuilding, Hersey landed with the brutal, first-year-Elton Brand edition Bulls, before bouncing around to Charlotte, where he retired in 2000. Recently, he’s been doing color commentary for the Grizz in Memphis, so if you get a moment, hit some search links.