Thank you, Atlanta Hawks.

kyleKorver

I know what you’re thinking, why thank anything from Atlanta? I mean, I’ve only driven through Atlanta on the way to Disney World, but never been in Atlanta long enough to formulate an opinion about the city known for its southern hospitality, Waffle Houses, extraordinary traffic jams and flight delays.

I also think the good people of Atlanta get a bad wrap when it comes to their sports teams too, although some of it is deserving. During the Braves’ run of 14 straight NL East division titles, they only led the league in attendance once. Some go further saying Atlanta is the worst sports town in America. No town wants that title, but some team has to have it, right? So for the majority of the 2000’s, Atlanta has controlled that name, “Worst Sports town in America.” The Georgia Dome is left empty on Sundays, it doesn’t matter if the Braves are a World Series contender or the worst team in baseball, and when playoff basketball comes around for the Hawks, opposing team’s fans are heard more than Atlanta’s.

Well, not anymore, Thank your 2015 Atlanta Hawks.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Atlanta Hawks

With the Eastern Conference being so lackluster, and the Western Conference teams waging war every night with one another for past 6 months and throw in the non-stop chatter about how the Golden State Warriors will go down as one of the best regular season teams in history, the number one seed in the East really hasn’t garnered all that much attention.

Remember when the Hawks won 19 straight? The longest winning streak since Miami’s 27 in 2013, when that was a national story and followed by every sports fan, not just NBA fans? When the Hawks went on their streak, people were more interested in the mid-season Cleveland crisis, or Steph Curry Vine highlights. But while we were interested in other things, Atlanta began its revitalization of their fandom and love for the Atlanta Hawks.

Interestingly enough, they are by far the least sexiest team to fall in love with. You could argue their roster is the least qualified 60-win team in NBA history, if you account for their roster and the historically weak East. All of that does not matter.

What matters is that the Hawks completely turned around their entire organization on and off the hardwood in virtually two seasons. That doesn’t mean they haven’t suffered setbacks, there are plenty of those. GM Danny Ferry making those racist remarks about Luol Deng and Atlanta’s fan base at the beginning of the season. And now the sketchy night-club brawl/stabbing that ended Thabo Sefolosha’s season. (Another score for the mid-2000’s Chicago Bulls!)

Those type of off the court issues can cripple an organization and its team, but not this one.

You say NBA coaches don’t matter in the grand scheme of things? I maintain Mike Budenholzer, heir to the Greg Popovich reign as best-damn-coach-period. I hope the man stays there the rest of his career, what he has done with this team is masterful.

No one expected the Hawks to be in this very place back in early October, I had them as a decent 7th seed, this is what I wrote:

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 2.46.42 PM

Hey, maybe I do know what I’m talking about, then again I had Charlotte in the 6th seed in the preseason and was excited to watch them, except they ended up being one of the most boring teams in the league. Getting back on track, no one outside of Coach “Bud” and his guys probably saw this coming.

The starting five of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Al Horford have completely overachieved this season, Budenholzer has transformed these guys into one of the most dynamic, free-flowing offenses I’ve ever seen. No one guy averages over 20 points per game, but all five starters average 12-16 ppg. respectively. Not to mention, they do have four All-Stars on their team.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 12.31.18 PM
That’s balanced scoring!

Conventional wisdom in the NBA is to have a go-to scorer who can get a bucket on his own, and have four guys who play well off him and off the ball. The Hawks do the same thing, except without the superstar part. Jeff Teague is the catalyst of this team, a highly under-appreciated point guard in a league loaded with them. Since Budenholzer has arrived, he’s brought out the absolute best in Teague, a guard who can get to the rim, has a decent mid-range game and most of all, has incredible vision and decisiveness that gets Atlanta’s shooters open shots.

For systematical comparison purposes, he’s Atlanta’s Tony Parker. Budenholzer has turned this team into a selfless passing machine that was 2nd in the league in assists at 25.9 a game. It’s plays like these that make this team a boat load of fun to watch:

It’s completely true, you can’t help yourself but to love them. Ever play a pick-up game with the guys you grew up with, where the chemistry is off the charts and the passing is the most fun part of the game? That’s the 2015 Hawks, and Budenholzer’s system has tormented league defenses night in and night out, and turned four guys into All-Stars in the process. All of this, has translated into the other side of the revitalization of the Hawks, their fans.

And that is why they sell out this building every night.

I could watch that over, and over, and over again. I miss you Kyle Korver, at least it’s nice to see a fan base that appreciates your incomprehensible shooting stroke and accuracy like the good folks of Chicago once did. 

Bob Rathbun has been doing play-by-play for the Hawks for 19 years now, how many times do you think he has said those 11 words before? My guess is none. Sure the winning, Korver’s shooting and their attractive style of play sells tickets naturally, but the Hawks organization has taken advertising, social media and promoting of their brand to the next level.

In a day where social media rules many of our collective lives, it might as well be the Atlanta Hawks Twitter account’s world, and we’re just tweeting in it. The point being, no professional sports team takes more advantage of and has more fun than the Hawks’ Twitter.

When they went on their near-impossible 19-game winning streak, the Twitter account was ruthless, they made sure you knew that your team was getting pounded that night. They even created a Spotify playlist full of songs that represented their streak:

They  became the forefront of NBA teams Twitter accounts harmlessly trolling one another. Better yet, the man behind all the social media Tom Foolery happens to have a journalism degree from THE University of Missouri. Welcome to 2015, where trash talk goes beyond the court. Thank you, Atlanta.

Their marketing team has done an outstanding job all season long. At the beginning of the year, they decided to throw it back to old school days where the “Pac-Man” logo was the Hawks brand, and people welcomed it back with open arms. A brand new court, while many may not notice, ultimately affects the public perception of the team, the organization went for the full clean slate.

Factor in all the promotions, such as “Swipe Right” night, referring to the popular dating/flirting app “Tinder” turned out to be a major hit, even if it was quirky at times, it filled the seats. Atlanta is pulling out all the stops for a fan base that hasn’t always been a factor in games and more importantly, playoff games.

Although the Hawks finished 17th in overall attendance for 2015, they jumped 11 spots from a year ago (when they were a lowly 28th, averaging only 14,339 fans a game) a clear sign that something was working this season both on and off the court.

The guy in the all white tux with a sunglasses and headband is winning at life.
The guy in the all white tux with sunglasses and a headband is winning at life.

Over the past two seasons, the Atlanta Hawks have transitioned from one of the most irrelevant franchises in sports to one of the most entertaining, free-flowing brands both on the hardwood and in the stands. The tandem of Coach Bud and his freakishly efficient basketball team paired with a creative product on social media and its ability to get fans to come see their Hawks play has turned this organization 180-degrees from a lackluster franchise, to a innovative franchise at the forefront of creativity, whether it’s finding a better way to get the ball in the hoop, or getting fans to swipe right.

Thank you, 2015 Atlanta Hawks, you may be more influential than we know.

-Goat

 

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