The Showtime Lakers of the 80's are justly legend. The fastbreak orchestrated by Magic was basketball at its highest artistic expression and achievement.
The second best fastbreak offense of the era was that of my hometown Atlanta Hawks. From 85-89, under young coach/ Hubie disciple Mike Fratello, and featuring up and coming superstar Dominique Wilkins, the team was young, hungry and exciting. While most of the East was running a slower tempo/ pound it inside offense, the Hawks were unabashedly run and gun.
The team consisted of a young nucleus of superior athletes -Wilkins and Kevin Willis, who could both run like deer (I remember once the story that the two starting forwards were arguing on the team bus about who was faster, and when it got heated, Fratello had the driver pull the bus over so they could race) and a back up big Antoine Carr who was an enigmatic package: a mix of lackadaisical and raw fury. All 3 could throw it down with the best in the league. (Carr once shattered a backboard in warm ups) As kids, my friends and I would get to the game early. The lay up line was a slam dunk spectacle.
Doc Rivers was a steady all-star point guard, but what made the team go during their heyday, was super sub Spud Webb. Remembered now for his slam dunk title, for a brief window before he tore up his knee, he was the fastest player in the game. Famously, as a rookie he was almost cut, but inserted in a close game against L.A., he sped ahead like a whirlwind on a break and shocked everyone by dunking it on Magic. Dominique told his coach, no way we cut this guy. Once he found his role, the team literally took off.
It's hard to believe, but during this period Dominique was arguably even more dynamic than Jordan. To this day I've never seen someone fly in and tip dunk an offensive rebound with the mixture of grace and power like Dominique frequently did in his 80's prime. If he was on the wing during a break, he was unstoppable. He was jamming it hard. A streaky but underrated shooter, when he heated up, he could carry a team on his back. Points would come in buckets. There's only one word to sum up vintage 'Nique: awesome.
As I said last year, for one hot minute this team seemed the heir to the Celtics. They were briefly on par with or right above the Pistons and Bulls.
Then after the classic '88 Bird-'Nique playoff duel, the team rolled the dice and brought in Moses Malone and Reggie Theus. There was no more running.
Over the next few years a mixture of bad chemistry, devastating injuries, and questionable management moves brought the run to a somewhat inglorious end. At the dawn of the 90's the team fell from elite contender to also ran; enduring early exit after early exit as rivals first the Pistons and then the Bulls raced by them, becoming champions, and carving legacies as alltime great teams.
Does anyone even remember those Hawks anymore? After being snubbed on the '50 Greatest Players' list, Dominique has seen his reputation bounce back in the last decade. But for the team itself, past glories have faded away exclusively into the occasional dreams of those who grew up watching and rooting for them. I cherish those dreams.