The Atlanta Hawks did it again.
On June 23, the Hawks won a third-straight Game 1 in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, this time a 116-113 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. After a 23-point, 15-rebound performance, Hawks forward John Collins earned himself a postgame interview with the Inside the NBA crew.
The Pro Basketball Hall of Fame cast marveled over Collins and the Hawks’ Game 1 highlights, specifically an off-the-backboard dunk from Collins off a Trae Young lob, and Young’s shimmy before draining a three-pointer on the way to his playoff career high of 48 points.
Collins, who Atlanta media members voted as the inaugural Sekou Smith Award winner, recognizing the Hawk who has been the most cooperative with the media, eloquently answered the crew’s questions and even gave Shaquille O’Neal his best “Caw Caw” impersonation.
Then came the reality check.
“Appreciate it, appreciate you guys, man,” Collins told the crew, as O’Neal continued to give his best Hawk impression. “First time on here, so I just wanted to say I love you guys and appreciate it.”
The 23-year-old, four-year NBA veteran walked back to the locker room as the TNT broadcast team continued talking.
“John said something interesting,” Charles Barkley said on the broadcast. “This the first time he’s been on. Other than the playoffs, when’s the last time we’ve actually had the Hawks on in a regular season game?”
April 15 was the one and only regular season game the Hawks got on TNT this past season, and Collins missed the game, ironically against the Bucks, with a left ankle sprain.
The season prior, the Hawks were on TNT once, which was originally scheduled to be twice before being replaced by the Denver Nuggets vs. Philadelphia 76ers.
One of the special parts of the Hawks’ playoff run this past summer was the team’s style of play became a topic on national shows the next day. Young’s signature shivering ice move, Collins’ dunking ability and the simple fact white 6-foot-7 NBA player like Kevin Huerter could do more than just catch and shoot a basketball marveled fans across the league as well.
“Everything (Young’s) doing right now on this stage, it’s what you guys have been seeing for the past two years when nobody else was,” Huerter said in the Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 postgame press conference.
Some basketball fans can argue it was embarrassing the lack of national TV games the Hawks got prior to this upcoming season. Despite being a lottery team, Atlanta had Young, a popular point guard who dominated highlight reels and national talk shows in college with over a million Instagram followers early in his NBA career. The Hawks still had Collins, who went viral for some of the summer league dunks he threw down before his rookie season. Before the 2020-21 season, Atlanta was projected to make the playoffs after signing veterans Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danillo Galinari and Rajon Rondo.
Still, only one TNT game.
The New Orleans Pelicans received seven TNT or ESPN games in the 2019-20 season, Zion Williamson’s rookie season. Williamson had a large amount of hype behind him, while the team brought on the trio of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart from the Los Angeles Lakers-Anthony Davis trade. Outside of Ball in 2017, Williamson at the time had the most hype a rookie has had entering his first season since arguably LeBron James in 2003. All these factors considered, the Pelicans still finished the season 16 games under .500, missed the playoffs and still finished in the bottom five, like the Hawks, in the league for attendance.
The previous arguments for the Hawks not having enough appeal or talent for national TV might have made sense to a casual NBA fan on a surface level, but as a Game 1 Eastern Conference Finals postgame show taught all networks- it was just an embarrassing, lazy oversight.
The Hawks have 14 games on Turner or Disney national networks this season, including four contests on TNT.
Atlanta opens the 2020-21 regular season at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21 in State Farm Arena against the Dallas Mavericks on the three-letter network whose headquarters sits across the street from the campus of Georgia Tech in midtown Atlanta.