On October 7, during halftime of the first Atlanta Hawks preseason game against the New Orleans Pelicans, the College Park Skyhawks introduced their mascot, Colli Hawk. A facsimile of the Hawks famous dancing mascot Harry the Hawk, Colli Hawk came down from the rafters of State Farm Arena to roars of applause. That kind of positive energy will hopefully follow the Skyhawks to their new home, the Gateway Arena, in time for their home opener on November 21.
As the Hawks NBA G League affiliate, the Skyhawks will begin their inaugural season on November 8 in Erie, Pennsylvania, where the team previously played as the Erie BayHawks, an affiliate of the Pelicans. The G League can be considered the minors—it gives NBA teams a place to house drafted and undrafted players for development and in case they need them during the season. The Hawks first announced their G League franchise in late 2016, and Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz is among the team owners.
College Park Mayor Jack Longino thinks having the franchise will be a boost for the city just nine miles south of Atlanta. “I think this will set us apart from the rest of the region,” he says. “Having the Skyhawks here gives the citizens who love basketball an opportunity to see the next best thing to the Atlanta Hawks for a reasonable price.”
Skyhawks head coach Noah Gillespie agrees. “Our goal is to develop these players for the NBA, but as far as value, you will see guys on the cusp of the NBA. I tell our fans and basketball fans in general that as a father [Gillespie and his wife have two young children], I think Skyhawks games will be an affordable source of family entertainment.”
The Skyhawks don’t just share affiliation and a lookalike mascot with the Hawks, the freshly minted hoops franchise shares players like former Norcross High School star Brandon Goodwin and rookie Charlie Brown, Jr., both currently under two-way contracts with the Hawks. As two-way players, which assures them limited time with the big club during the simultaneous NBA and G League seasons, Brown, Jr. and Goodwin will also be the face of the Skyhawks. Gillespie knows having that level of talent on the team will also help bring fans in and keep them on board. “It is important for our fans to see that our players and our opponents are NBA players and that they will see a fast-paced, high-energy game,” said Gillespie, who has coached professional basketball for almost two decades. “Having the team here in the Atlanta area will be beneficial to both the Skyhawks and Hawks, and it’s a huge advantage for our players as well.”
There is also Gateway Center Arena, the state-of-the-art facility that the Skyhawks will play in this season, a $45-million building that has a capacity of 3,500 for basketball and another 1,500 seats available for concerts and other events. The G League season runs from November to March of next year. “There’s not a bad seat in the house, and we are going to pack the place,” says Gillespie. The Skyhawks players and coaches have already made public appearances around town, dropping by local businesses on Main Street to hand out schedules. “We wanted to let people know that instead of going to a movie or out to dinner, they can go to a Skyhawks game,” Gillespie says.
With just a few months worth of professional basketball games on the arena schedule, there was still plenty of room for a housemate. Enter: the Atlanta Dream, who recently announced a one-year contract to play their 2020 season (17 home games) at Gateway Center Arena. “This arena is not just for the Skyhawks, they will only play 24 games here this season,” said Longino. “Because we are the fourth largest hospitality region in the state of Georgia, [the arena] will host high school graduations, probably college graduations, and concerts.” And now, the top women’s professional basketball in the country.