Oral History Outtakes: The 1987-88 Hawks

by Micah Hart

In the course of conducting the interviews for the oral history, one consistent message shone through from all the Hawks players and coaches. The 1987-88 squad was more than a team – it was a family, and one that still remains close 25 years later.

Cliff Levingston: That was the best and most loved team in my whole career, my favorite team to play for in all of my years.  I think that as I look back now, I think we really didn’t know and understand the magnitude of what we would have done if we would have beat Boston.  I think we were still a little young and a little green at what it took to win.  We were just going out, playing and having fun and enjoying it.  That whole year was just a great year of playing basketball for me.

Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb

There was tremendous camaraderie.  We battled each other in practice first of all, then after practice, we’d go have lunch together.  Later on we may go hang out at the mall or go out to party together. We did everything together.  I felt a lot of teams, certain guys like certain guys and didn’t want to be around other guys. But this team, everybody wanted to be around each other.  We really enjoyed each other’s company and we really enjoyed each other’s personalities.

I still talk to a lot of the guys from that ‘87 team and stay in touch with them.  It’s hard not to because we did everything together. 

John Battle: I still send Doc Rivers texts encouraging him about today and telling him to keep playing and keep fighting just as I would have as we were playing together.  I tell him keep coaching and keep doing what he’s doing. He always texts me back and say thank you and I tell him I love him and keep on going.  I see Kevin Willis at my church every so often and we talk about life … we never talk about those games though.  Those are ours forever in our heart.  We know the wars that we fought together and no one gave up and no one left there hanging their heads.  If there was just one more moment in time, we may all have had a ring on our fingers. Still, I am happy about that game.  I believe that game will probably go down as my championship.

Kevin Willis: We would do things off the court together during the offseason. We would get together and we would make sure that everybody knew what was going on. We didn’t want to isolate anyone. We wanted to grow as a team off the court because that’s important. Sometimes you get on the court and you don’t, you may be upset with one of your teammates, but if you don’t have that unity off the court, that can keep going on and manifest into something bad. When you have that unity off the court, and you have a heated discussion or confrontation in practice, it gets squashed immediately.

Scott Hastings: ‘Nique was our best scorer, and Doc and Witt were probably our best leaders. We had the heart and soul of a team. Guys like Tree Rollins and a bunch of blue-collar guys like Kevin Willis, Cliff Levingston, Jon Koncak, Antoine Carr, guys that just wanted to compete and fight. Fight quite a bit, that was my role I guess. Honest to God, I think if the phone rings and any guy on that team were to call me and say “Hey I need whatever” or “could you come here” I’d do it in heartbeat. I think we all feel that way. That’s how close we were. Randy Wittman is the godfather of one of my kids and I’m the godfather of one of his sons. There was just a closeness that transcended the basketball court.

I was on a team a couple years later that won a NBA championship in Detroit. I still feel pretty close with them, but as close and memorable as that team was, I was still just there for a couple of years. The guys with Atlanta still feel more like family. I know it sounds a little corny but that’s kind of what we had going here for a little while.

Honestly, I’ll take that Atlanta Hawks team that lost to the Boston Celtics, make us all 27 again, and I’d play Miami of today. I wouldn’t be afraid of the Miami Heat that won the championship last year. I’ll take Dominique against LeBron James. I’ll take Kevin Willis or Tree Rollins against any big they got. See how many layups they get. I’ll take that in a heartbeat.

Spud Webb: A lot of us played together for four or five years. We knew each other’s family, we knew each other’s everything. We would eat at each other’s house and hang out together. There wasn’t a lot of cliques on our team because we all would hang out together, eat together, go to movies together and stuff. We knew what the purpose was and that’s what Mike Fratello tried to install in us. It was about team basketball, team defense, stuff like that. You didn’t find too many guys that didn’t like each other. There wasn’t two guys that didn’t like each other in different cliques or anything like that.

Steve Holman:Tree Rollins was almost like the father figure to that team. The team would go to a city, Tree would say, "okay we are going to this movie tonight" and the whole team came down and they all went to the same movie. "Alright, here is where we are going to dinner tonight and they all went to dinner,"  It was a different time, it was before cellphones and before everyone had ear plugs in their ears or headphones on.  A couple of guys would have a boombox maybe, but guys actually talked to each other. It was just a fun, young group that was kind of wide-eyed. It was almost a storybook kind of a team.

Tree Rollins: That team holds a special place in my basketball heart. I had such a great time being a member of that team from day one of the ’77- ’78 season all the way up till I departed. We had some very special teams and some very special friendships off the court. It’s really hard to get that chemistry at one time, for one season.

We had so much confidence.  The last time I talked to Randy Wittman, I was coaching with Memphis and I asked him if he ever had the fix.  I’m telling you, we went on a 10- or 12-game winning streak and I have never had anything close to that where I have had so much confidence. Just to walk on the court, in the Omni or on the road, knowing you were going to win. No question.  Other than God himself playing against you, you were going to win. That’s why I love that team. 

I had a few conversations with Willis Reed, who was my assistant there in Atlanta, and he told me the story about when (the Knicks) won the championships, they had such togetherness on the court, but they didn’t have a whole lot of it off the court. But once they crossed that line, everyone was together.  So I took that lesson and tried to extend it and had my teammates, with the help of Wittman and Dominique and Hastings, to make sure we were together.

Micah Hart is the Director of Interactive Marketing for the Atlanta Hawks.

Oral History Outtakes: The 1987-88 Hawks