The Last Word With Lang Whitaker - Oct. 31, 2007

Lang Whitaker is many things - executive editor of Slam Magazine, a columnist for SI.com, and most importantly, a die-hard Hawks fan. For 2007-08 , Lang will be sharing his thoughts on the team in an exclusive column for Hawks.com. Check back every Wednesday throughout the season to read his latest musings, and read him every day at www.SLAMonline.com

I'm Here Because I'm A Hawks Fan
by Lang Whitaker

You may be asking yourself: Hey, how did he get in here? This is Hawks.com, where the information is supposed to come straight from the Hawks, vetted to stay on message, combed through as thoroughly as Billy Knight's...whoops, better not go there, not yet anyway. But basically, you're wondering how a writer outside The Highlight Factory got a spot here on Hawks.com. The same dude who has publicly criticized everyone from Mike Woodson to Shelden Williams is now sharing a cyberspace home with them?

Yes, yes I am. And I'm glad to be here.

As for why I'm here, there's two answers, really.

1. The Hawks came to me and asked me to write here, which I think is rather admirable. They weren't afraid to embrace me, even though I've had issues with them in the past, mostly related to their inability to win more games than they've lost in recent years. They asked me to give you my feelings on the Hawks this season, and I promise to do exactly that. Once the season starts, of course. Hopefully it'll be entertaining, especially if I can score a night out with the A-Town Dancers. You know, for research.

2. Above all else, I am a Hawks fan. I own two seats from The Omni that I bought at the auction a few days before The Omni was imploded. At that same auction I paid $10 for an oversized, framed portrait of Ken "Snake" Norman that formerly hung in The Omni media room. (It now hangs over my desk in my office at SLAM.)

When the Hawks signed Moses Malone and traded for Reggie Theus in 1988, I saved my own money for the entire summer and purchased a single Hawks season ticket way up in the Omni rafters, which I paid $205 for. It still breaks my heart to think about the promise that team squandered.

I currently own six Hawks t-shirts. I have a Pete Maravich jersey, a Lou Hudson jersey, an '80s Dominique jersey, a late-90s Shareef Abdur-Rahim jersey, a throwback Josh Smith jersey.

My favorite player in the mid-'80s was Spud Webb, just because he was short and fast and could dunk. I remember when Stan Kasten appealed to the NBA office that Spud should be allowed to wear number 0.4. (Thankfully, the League saw things differently.) I remember Jon Koncak before his reconstructive jaw surgery. I remember when Mark Bradley had an afro and a mustache. I remember when I thought the Hawks logo was Pac-Man. I remember Kasten drafting tons of foreign players who never made it to the NBA. I remember Cliff Levingston, Antoine Carr, Mike McGee, John Battle. I remember Scott Hastings establishing himself as the premiere inbounds passer in the NBA. I remember Bill Needle and Joe O'Toole. I remember The Wittman Sampler. I remember sitting on the floor of my parent's living room and watching Game Seven of the 1988 Eastern Conference Semis, and thinking that I'd never seen a basketball player as good as Dominique.

I remember hearing that Dominique had been traded. I remember hearing that Kevin Willis had been traded. I remember JR Rider nearly making Lenny Wilkens' head explode. I remember Dikembe's finger wag taking over the city. I remember Steve Smith on the cover of Sports Illustrated for having to guard Michael Jordan. I remember Ed Gray. I remember the first time Anthony Johnson was on the Hawks. I remember Cal Bowdler, Eldridge Recasner, Chris Crawford.

I miss the thinly-veiled cynicism of Jeffrey Denberg, though my main man Sekou "Tubby" Smith is plenty cynical himself. I miss Jason Collier. I miss Mike Fratello and his tight perm, and I miss Lon Kruger's unibrow.

I could go on, but you get my point: Things done changed. And as lovely as it is to sit here and reminisce about the past, I'm going to look forward. I have no choice. We have no choice.

Instead of looking back, I'm thinking forward: I want to see Billy Knight's 6-8 Mafia figure it all out and make the Playoffs this season. I want Joe Johnson to make the All-Star team without someone else getting injured to free up a spot. I want to see Josh Smith consistently knock down that jumper from the wing. I want to see Zaza Pachulia throw some muscle around in the paint. I want to see Marvin Williams continue to improve. I want to see Josh Childress get some love as a viable Sixth Man Of The Year candidate. I want Acie Law in the starting lineup and I want Al Horford to win Rookie of the Year.

More than anything, I want to see the Hawks make the Playoffs this season. So let's end the column this way: With a guarantee. I haven't cleared this with any of the 843 surviving members of Atlanta Spirit, but I'm going to put it out there regardless. If the Hawks don't make the Playoffs this season, we'll refund your subscription price to Hawks.com. I know, I know, I'm going out on a limb here, but someone needs to throw down the gauntlet, to show the Hawks players that all of us here at Hawks.com believe in them and think they're ready to climb from the basement to the penthouse. Rise up, peoples.

(And if the Hawks don't make the Playoffs, Steve Holman will be in charge of handing out the refunds. Keep an eye out for him around town.)

Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com.