“Craig Eats Crow” will be an ongoing, first-person series in which I publically own up to my incorrect, half-baked, and idiotic (but at-the-time logical!) takes. Kudos to me for bravely admitting my wrongs.
In the final stretch of a turbulent season saddled by drama, stress, and expectations, the Atlanta Hawks are proving many people—myself included—dead wrong.
So. This happened:
On the night of December 23rd, I tweeted that to my 200-some followers (follow me, people—I am hilarious) in sheer confidence that the Atlanta Hawks, a team I thought to receive more than enough buzz at the beginning of the season, were going to miss the playoffs. This is not to say that I have some weird vendetta against the Atlanta Hawks, Trae Young, or anyone affiliated with the organization. I don’t. The Hawks are a fun team to root for, and Trae Young is a remarkable talent who perfectly symbolizes the panache of the modern NBA.
Contrary to the expectations of many, including this author, the Atlanta Hawks are headed to the NBA playoffs
No, I rather enjoy how the Hawks handle their business. The thought of a hypothetical scenario where the organization—from ownership to management to coaching staff to players—comes together for a multi-hour, preseason team meeting to reach the simple, blasé ultimatum of “Let’s just, like, score more points than everybody?” is one that strangely seems possible with this group. Despite the buttoned-up Golden State Warriors lifeblood that Hawks GM, Travis Schlenk, infused into the front office, the Hawks still have the feel of a blacktop build-your-own team. With skilled players up and down the roster who behave more like offensive mercenaries than anything else, Atlanta caused quite the stir before the season even began.
And that, my friends, was my issue with the Atlanta Hawks.
A team that greatly underachieved last season—they ranked last in opponent points per game, 26th in offensive rating, 27th in defensive rating—the Hawks seemed to have no business receiving the preseason praise they were allotted. Granted, a bevy of free-agent acquisitions certainly boosted Atlanta’s stock price, but the roster still failed to make cohesive sense. The additions of Kris Dunn, Rajon Rondo, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, and Solomon Hill on top of the already existing core made for a confusing vision of what the Hawks wanted out of their squad.
Were they doubling down on offense, an idea that proved dreadful last season with Lloyd Pierce at the helm? Were they trying to add veteran leadership to their young core? And good Lord, what about the porous defense? From a logical outsider’s perspective, the whole situation looked like a big, straw-grasping mess.
That is why, about midway through the season, when the Atlanta Hawks drunkenly stumbled to a 14-20 start, I was elated to see that my Twitter prediction was coming true. When the Hawks swiftly gave Lloyd Pierce the ax by the 34-game mark, everything seemed to be smooth-sailing from then on out. No Craig-centric mockery in the shared Slack message board with my fellow writers and editor. No possibility of being bombed on by the ‘Freezing Cold Takes’ Twitter account. Most importantly, no cross-country Greyhound trip.
But then something happened to the Atlanta Hawks. I don’t know what, specifically, but it was something. Pierce’s ousting, a clean slate, newer coaching philosophies, and an increased sense of motivation upon reports regarding a mass exodus at season’s end if the Hawks failed to make the playoffs certainly come to mind as possibilities. Nevertheless, despite the laundry list of new potential influences, when Nate McMillan stepped in to steer the Hawks’ sinking ship, the tides turned.
Atlanta sprinted out to an eight-game winning streak immediately following McMillan’s appointment, thus jumpstarting a run in which the Hawks won 26 of their next 37 games. The offense decimates teams like we knew it could, and the defense no longer leaks like a sieve. Things started to look grim for your boy in early April, and now with the Atlanta Hawks clinching not only a playoff spot but a six-seed at the very least, the nail is officially in the coffin.
When people mention sweaty-palms time, I now know what they mean. For some reason, in my former athletic and academic endeavors, I rarely felt pressure. “Chill out, we’ll be fine,” I remember stating as my study group clammed up just hours before our final college exam. But now, with a looming bus trip to Atlanta and incessant mockery coming in from the rafters from my fellow writers—especially one Larry Hammonds—as the Atlanta Hawks glided to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, pressure has become my fixed internal state upon watching NBA basketball.
Perhaps my tweet was the motivator that pushed the Hawks to their success? It certainly feels as such. Now—every day, every hour, every minute, every second—it feels as though each individual member of the Hawks is Dominique-style dunking on my head in hopes of exacting their vengeance on a stupid kid from Cleveland, Ohio.
But unfortunately for the Hawks organization, Larry Hammonds, and the entire city of Atlanta, I have some bad news:
I’m not going to Atlanta on a Greyhound bus. Not now. Maybe not ever, but especially not now. During a pandemic? What kind of man do you take me as? A man of my word—a word that was retweeted by one lone person—probably not, but definitely not one who,
despite my recent vaccination, throws social responsibility out the window for a not-so-cheap thrill ($238.98 to take the Cleveland-departing, 7:45 am bus that arrives in Atlanta at 11:15 pm paired with an outbound 5:50 am-4:25 pm red-eye grey-eye back to my homeland).
I won’t be bullied into a multi-day endeavor because a professional basketball team performed at a higher level than usual for half of one of the weirdest seasons in NBA history. Despite the handshake emoji used at the end of the infamous tweet, I did not physically shake hands with anyone. I am not indebted to any entities, nor am I willing to waste a weekend because I was wrong. If anything, my incorrectness should simply lead to me making wiser predictions, and my willingness to accept my wrongdoings should steer you to my cause.
I solely used my platform to showcase my sense of humor, emphasize my unrelenting confidence in my opinions, and gain a bit of a following. The strategy, for all its ingenuity, turned over no stones. Funny, yes, but my hard-pressed beliefs were flawed, and my following remains but a drop in the social media bucket. I will persevere, and who knows; by the start of next season, I could make a similarly bad prediction that actually results in me going cross-country because of my stupidity. For my sake, I hope that does not happen. But for your sake—the sake of my lovely readers—I could ask for nothing better.
Congratulations to the Atlanta Hawks on their first playoff bid since 2017. You stuck it to me, and you deserve your roses. Having said this, I will be anticipating a thank-you letter in the mail for providing you with the motivation to reach your ultimate goal.