Today marks the 25th anniversary of my start date at the ol’ AJC, and to commemorate the august occasion — august to me, though you folks could well view it differently — I’m about to write a sentence heretofore untyped by these aging fingers:
I like these Hawks.
Yes, I know they lost to the Knicks last night and looked bad doing it. Yes, I’m aware they’ve dropped five of eight since the All-Star break. I don’t care. I know what I like. I like these Hawks.
Over 25 years I’ve been harder on the local NBA team than any other sporting entity — harder than on the Falcons, harder even than on the Cremins Yellow Jackets. And I’m not apologizing: If I’ve tried to do one thing over the quarter-century it was to write what I thought, and usually I thought there was something amiss with the Hawks. I nitpicked the Dominique Wilkins teams because they lacked a shooter; I was dubious about the Lenny Wilkens teams because Mookie Blaylock shot too much. But these Hawks have grown on me in a way none of their predecessors did.
These Hawks I really, really like.
I’m not picking them to win the NBA title. I’m not picking them to reach the Finals. (I do think they’ll win their first-round series.) I concede this isn’t even the best Hawks team of the past 25 years: The 1986-87 and 1993-94 teams were better. But this is my favorite to watch.
For 24-plus years I saw pro basketball being played in this city and wondered why it wasn’t being played better. Today I think the Hawks have come close to maximizing resources. They’ve gotten great value this season — fourth place in the East with a team that finished eight games below .500 a year ago and didn’t add a single starter.
Are there quibbles? Absolutely. (This wouldn’t be a Bradley column otherwise.) I wish Josh Smith would settle for one jump shot a month. I wish Mike Bibby didn’t play swinging-gate D. I wish Marvin Williams could be assertive every game. I wish they’d run more plays for Al Horford. I wish Mike Woodson would use Acie Law. I wish Josh Childress were here.
But my likes outnumber my dislikes. I love the way these guys pass. (Joe Johnson is terrific at finding Bibby out of double-teams, and nobody reverses the ball like Horford.) I admire their tenacity in big games. (I do wish they were more tenacious against lesser opponents, and so does Woodson.) I’ve even come to appreciate Woodson, who has finally succeeded in getting his men to defend, last night notwithstanding.
Me, I figure they’ll win 48 or 49 games and be the No. 4 seed in the East, which would represent significant improvement over last season’s 37 and No. 8. And I’m confident they’ll give a good account of themselves in postseason.
Granted, if the past 25 years have taught us anything, it’s that I’m capable of being spectacularly wrong. But this time I don’t think I will be. I believe in these Hawks. Really and truly I do.