Hawks Players Recount First NBA Games Attended

Squatch
Otta Greule Jr./NBAE/Getty Images

On first recollection, Al Horford didn't think that he attended any NBA games as a kid. But after pausing a moment, he recalled what others had told him about it.

"Let me take that back," Horford said before explaining, "when my dad played with the Bucks."

Like a number of the current Hawks players, Horford attended an NBA game before making a career there. For Horford, his first games came in the late 1980s when his father, Tito, played for Milwaukee.

"I was about two or three years old," he  said, "so I don't remember. I don't have any recollection, but I was there I guess."

It took a while for Horford to make it to his next NBA game. By that point in time, he was a University of Florida student and two-time NCAA champion.

"Honestly, the next time I went after that was when I came out before the draft. I went to see the Magic play, and that was in '07 right before I got to the league." 

Horford's story is typical of a lot of the Hawks and their first NBA games. Some went as young kids. Others attended as college students trying to wrap their minds around pro careers. A few went more to see family members play.

Paul Millsap saw his hometown team play when he was a grade-schooler, but he spread his fandom countrywide to all the great 1990s teams of his youth.

"I went to a Denver Nuggets game," he said. "They had Dikembe Mutombo, LaPhonso Ellis and that group. I was a fan of the NBA, period: the Seattle Supersonics, the Chicago Bulls, the Utah Jazz. I was just a fan of basketball."

Like Millsap, Mike Muscala was another kid watching the NBA through the Midwest Division. 

"I went to Timberwolves' games," he said, "but I don't remember the first one."

Minnesota made the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons starting when Muscala was 6 years old, and the success of those teams left an impression on him.

"It was always cool when I went to the games and watched them on TV," he said. "I really liked Wally Szczerbiak and the other good players. Obviously Kevin Garnett was dominant then and very passionate."

Kent Bazemore first attended an NBA game in his home state when he made the trip from Kelford, N.C. with his classmates.

"I was up in the nosebleeds in Charlotte and they were playing the Cavs," he said. "The Cavs had that black jersey with the hoop on it. And that's all I remember. I was 6 years old maybe? It was a field trip."

Other Hawks, like Mike Scott, Jeff Teague, Shelvin Mack and Justin Holiday, didn't attend their first game until they were in college. 

"I was a fifth-year (senior at the University of Virginia)," Scott said of his outing. 'I went to a Wizards game with my assistant coach and the Wizards were playing the Pacers in D.C. My coach took me early to see how guys prepare and how they warm up – the itty bitty stuff to get mentally prepared for the game. I went to the Wizards' weight room too."

Teague and Mack went to watch friends play near their colleges. When he was a student at Wake Forest, Teague went to a 76ers game in Charlotte to see Marreese Speights. Mack, who played at Butler, went to a Pacers' game to see how then-rookie John Wall was faring for the Wizards.

Holiday had a great seat to take in his first NBA game and a great reason too: his brother, Jrue, had just joined the 76ers.

"It was against the Lakers," Holiday recalled. "I remember that he played well. I was sitting next to him pretty close. I wasn't on the floor, but he had seats on the floor and I was right behind him. 

"He played well and did his thing," he added. "Obviously it's always exciting to watch your brother play and do well, and it was motivating."

All the aforementioned stories are fun and nostalgic, but no Hawk is topping the story of Tim Hardaway Jr.'s first NBA game.

"First time I can remember was when my dad was playing for the Heat," Hardaway said. "I was probably like 4 or 5 years old at the time. I was sitting across from the bench, and it was the mascot's birthday, Burnie."

A mascot's birthday is a big event, an excuse to fly in mascots from other teams, which is exactly what the Heat did.

"That's when the Seattle Supersonics had their imitation of Bigfoot or something like that," he said.

Seattle's mascot was Squatch, a tall, long-haired monster of a mascot who sort of looked like Chewbacca, if Chewbacca turned to the Dark Side.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Hardaway continued. "I was sitting in the aisle. The mascot came down and scared me like crazy."

Hardaway wasn't about to suffer his ultimate fate at the hands of a hairy out-of-town mascot. He did what any smart preschooler would do.

"I was small enough to go under my mom's seat at the game," he said. "And she was defending me. She was yelling at the mascot like, 'Get out of here! Don't come over here!'"

The events of that day were certainly a close call, but 20 years later, Hardaway has survived and made it to the NBA as a player in his own right.

Thank you, Mrs. Hardaway, for protecting Tim Jr. from harm. From now on, If Harry the Hawk starts lurking near the Hawks during pre-game shootaround and Tim isn't 100% warm and welcoming, we'll all fully understand why.

Story by KL Chouinard
Twitter: @KLChouinard

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