All the time Atlanta Hawks fans ask what's the meaning behind the #eventhehawks hashtag that gets thrown around Hawks fandom and the Twittersphere.
They'll see a reference by ESPN's basketball newshound Marc Stein or just find other people randomly tossing it out there whenever the Hawks are mentioned and wonder about its origin and/or meaning. Or sometimes, they'll make assumptions without asking, and it takes on a life all its own.
When Dwight Howard was shopping himself around as a free agent in the 2013 NBA offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and the Atlanta Hawks were considered the four teams being somewhat considered for Howard's services.
While the Hawks were significant longshots, Howard was keeping his hometown team somewhat in the mix, due in part to sentiment, maybe, or in large part because the Hawks could afford to front a max contract to the big man.
As the wooing period commenced and ended and as the decision was close to a revelation, none of the four teams had yet been notified of their dismissal by Howard's camp.
As such, and as it was a surprise, Stein tweeted out the truth that no team had been eliminated, though a decision was sure to be soon announced. That truth, however, came in an innocuous, yet humorously surprised tweet if you were a fan of the team from Atlanta. It was something in the context of 'no team has been told they've been eliminated, even the Hawks'.
Happening to be on Twitter at the same time due to the unending rumors that were pouring through at that time (July 1st being the opening of free agency news and rumors), I took advantage of the nature of the tweet, re-tweeted it and asked, "#eventhehawks"?
What came forth immediately from that is a string of tongue-in-cheek #eventhehawks type tweets that said such things as:
#eventhehawks can pay the max for a free agent.
#eventhehawks belong in the NBA.
#eventhehawks play 82 games and have schedules and everything.
#eventhehawks have real NBA players, uniforms and coaches.
They were lame, but fed on the regular feeling of being an afterthought in the NBA spectrum, the casualty of being a fan of a franchise that isn't championship relevant or nationally prominent.
Other fans picked up on it as well, and soon it was trending to the point where Stein, who has long been an advocate for the franchise and one of the few national scribes who have real information on the team, took notice and asked "Is #eventhehawks really a thing?"
It was and it was off and running throughout the free agency period and beyond. Anytime the Hawks would surprise or really, do anything, someone would be sure to run an #eventhehawks hashtag out there as a way to poke at folks who don't take the Hawks seriously or seemed surprised that the team could do anything worthwhile in the NBA picture.
Just to make sure I wasn't making up history, I cross-checked the story with Marc Stein himself, with which he was generous enough to engage.
"As I remember it, during Dwight Howard's free agency in July 2013, I tweeted something about how "even the Hawks" - who were widely regarded as a team on the fringes of the Dwight hunt - hadn't yet been formally told they were out of the Dwight Sweepstakes. And then #eventhehawks became a thing," recalls Stein.
Stein, being the eternal good sport that he is, picked it up himself and advanced its profile beyond anything that could have been in the speck of time that is Twitter and used it in fond manner, putting it in his Weekly Power Rankings and dropping it whenever he was talking about the team.
Says Stein, "I started using it here and there in the rankings and in tweets, which is something I've been known to do: Rehash a phrase for effect, to give their rankings their own voice, whether it's "committee of one" or odes to Omri Casspi or whatever."
"I always thought the hashtag was clever. You're the one who gets credit for actually making it up. I simply appreciated the fact you took my Twitter haste in such great spirit and had fun with it instead of the ‘you hate my team' reaction that the Power Rankings have been known to generate on occasion."
It was fun but as time went on, fewer people understood the good natured origin of the hashtag and began to think that somehow Stein, and others, were using the refrain as a way to put down the Hawks and some found it disrespectful and outright offensive to them as Hawks fans.
That's the nature of something as sudden as Twitter, things move so fast that something as nuanced as the origin and meaning of #eventhehawks can easily and understandably become misunderstood quickly.
Marc Stein was one of the first ESPN.com basketball insiders the website had when it started back in the mid-1990's. He was the Western conference insider and Jeffrey Denberg, he of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was the Eastern conference guy. They were great professionals and excellent writers/reporters at a time when national basketball news in the moment was very hard to come by.
(Ed. note: Stein reminds that Peter May and Scott Howard-Cooper were also correspondents -- with May on the Atlantic Division, Denberg on the Central, Howard-Cooper on the Pacific and Stein replacing Mike Monroe on the Midwest beat.)
Stein has always mentioned fond memories of the Omni, Dominique and the Hawks in general and was never a guy to take the low-hanging fruit pot-shots that defined national Hawks coverage for decades before this current crop of Bill Simmons, Zach Lowe, The Starters, Matt Moore, Zach Harper types that have been diligent enough to look deeper at the team and talk about the team on all levels.
In short, guys like Stein and Denberg were class acts and while we lost Jeff a decade ago, Stein remains and will always have a soft spot in my mind as someone who stands against lazy narratives when it comes to the Hawks.
That's why the hashtag was fun, it was in the hands of a national guy who gave a crap about the franchise and it allowed the fans to have an in with someone whose voice is heard figuratively and literally by everyone who watches the NBA.
As time goes on, however, it becomes harder and more exhausting explaining things as backstory driven as #eventhehawks, so I imagine it will, as internet things do, go away nationally. I am sure fans will continue to use it as a mantra against being ignored as a franchise, which is a cool thing, too. #eventhehawks fans deserve a rallying cry.
Stein concurs: "I've since tried to re-tell the back story on #eventhehawks on occasion, as part of the rankings or on Stein Line Live, just to remind anyone unfamiliar with the term that it was A) invented by a Hawks fan and B) had only positive connotations (at least in my eyes). But maybe the need to keep explaining it is a sign that perhaps it should just be retired."
Now, if we can only get #NTTH (never trust the Hawks) to fade away as a tradeoff, that would be even better.