It took 21 seasons before the New Orleans Saints finally reached the playoffs. It was 34 years before they won a postseason game and 43 before they found their way to the Super Bowl.
So let’s start with this: When it comes to the playoffs, regardless of the sport, having an impressive resume is not a prerequisite to winning a championship. If the Hawks were seeking some affirmation that unlikely story lines develop every day, they just got it.
The Saints just won the Super Bowl. Next week, Liechtenstein conquers China.
The Hawks face the Miami Heat Wednesday night at Philips Arena. It will be their final game before the All-Star break. After Miami, they’ll have played 51 games and hold the third or fourth best record in the Eastern Conference. They went 4-0 against Boston. They’re still looking for a win against Orlando (0-3) or Cleveland (0-2). So much for the measuring sticks.
At this point, it’s easy to look at the Hawks and think: Pretty good. Still prone to inconsistencies. Probably no better than third in the East. But New Orleans just showed how quickly things can change when a team grows up in the post-season, even if it is another league and another sport.
“When you see a team like that do something that nobody thought they could do, it makes you think we can do the same thing,” Jamal Crawford said. “Why not? It’s possible, especially when you look at the steps this franchise has taken.
“I wonder what that feels like — to win a championship? We’ll see what happens. But I certainly don’t see us capping out. We’re continuing to get better. We’re continuing to gel. We’re about 50 games into the season and everybody is understanding their role. We’re starting to understand what it takes to win.”
The Hawks have never won a conference championship, let alone a league title, in Atlanta. Their only NBA title came in 1958 when the franchise was in St. Louis.
After a 19-6 start this year, they leveled off to 13-11 over the next 24 games, going into Tuesday’s game at Memphis. They’re certainly better, even if not great, on the road than a year ago (11-12 before Memphis). General manager Rick Sund says he likes the team the way it is. He gave no indication Monday that he’s looking to make a deal. “People are talking about us as being one of the top three or four teams in the Eastern Conference, and that’s what we were striving for,” he said.
But will that translate to winning more than one playoff round?
Josh Smith, a long-time Indianapolis Colts fan, wasn’t happy about the Super Bowl result. But he liked the backdrop it created for the next few months.
“The Saints have a bunch of guys most people haven’t heard of,” Smith said. “But they had a confidence and a swagger about themselves in the playoffs. That’s what we need to have when we play the likes of Boston and Cleveland. That confidence goes a long way.
“Like I’ve always said: impossible is nothing. You can’t give up on your dream. Here you’ve got a football team that’s hardly ever been past the first round and they just won a championship. You start to realize, we can get it done. We can be the sleeper. Even when Detroit won the championship in 2004, they weren’t a losing franchise or anything but they pretty much came out of nowhere and overcame huge odds to beat the Lakers. If we can get hot after the All-Star break, I think we’ve got a chance to do something special.”
The Saints’ victory parade was scheduled for Tuesday night through downtown New Orleans. The team ordered 1.8 million strands of beads to throw.
Crawford smiled, thinking about what a similar celebration would be like in Atlanta. “That would be big, right?” he said. “Peachtree would be shut down for the whole day. I couldn’t even imagine that. Hey, you never know. Nothing is scripted.”