Connie Hawkins, a Basketball Hall of Fame forward who starred for the Harlem Globetrotters as well as the NBA Phoenix Suns, has died aged 75, the Suns announced on Saturday.
"The Hawk" launched his career on the famed New York outdoor courts of Rucker Park and led two unbeaten high school teams to titles.
Hawkins was linked to a college basketball gambling scandal in 1961 but was never arrested or indicted. Despite that, he was denied a place at top US college teams or in the NBA.
He spent three years with the Globetrotters and four more with minor-league basketball clubs before reaching a settlement with the NBA in 1969 that saw him join the expansion Suns.
His flamboyant style of play, acrobatic leaps and slam dunks matching artistry and flair with skill and athleticism, made him a pioneer of the style used by such players as Michael Jordan that popularized the sport worldwide.
"'The Hawk' revolutionized the game and remains to this day an icon of the sport and one of basketball's great innovators," a statement from the Suns said. "His unique combination of size, grace and athleticism was well ahead of its time and his signature style of play is now a hallmark of the modern game."
Knee injuries limited Hawkins to only seven NBA campaigns but he averaged 18.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists a game for the Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks.
Hawkins was the first superstar sports figure in Phoenix, taking a new club and making it a contender. His jersey number, 42, was retired by the Suns and he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.
"Connie's passion for the game was only matched by his desire to give back to the Phoenix community, a role which he played proudly as a Suns community ambassador, spreading warmth and kindness to everyone he encountered," the team statement said.
"We will miss Hawk dearly... we mourn the passing of a true Suns legend."