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Tommy Hawkins, former Lakers and Notre Dame star, dies at 80

LOS ANGELES -- Tommy Hawkins, the first black basketball player to earn All-American honors at Notre Dame and who played for the Los Angeles Lakers during a 10-year NBA career, died Wednesday. He was 80.

Hawkins died in Malibu, according to the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom he once worked as director of communications. He had been in good health and had lain down to rest, his oldest son, Kevin, told the Associated Press.

Hawkins graduated from Notre Dame in 1959 after playing three years on the basketball team. He had 1,318 career rebounds for the longest-standing record in Fighting Irish history. He was named to the school's all-century team in 2004 and was inducted into its ring of honor in 2015. He led the Irish to a 44-13 record over his final two seasons, including an Elite Eight berth in the 1958 NCAA tournament.

"He loved Notre Dame with every fiber of his being," said Kevin Hawkins, who followed in his father's footsteps and played basketball for the Irish before graduating in 1981. "He said Notre Dame did so much for him and grew him up to become the man that he would become."

Hawkins became close with Notre Dame president Theodore Hesburgh, who served from 1952 to 1987. Hesburgh was supportive when Hawkins was dating a white woman from nearby Saint Mary's College and they were turned away from a South Bend restaurant that wouldn't allow the interracial couple to dine, Kevin Hawkins said.

"That act led Father Hesburgh to ban Notre Dame [students] from eating there until my father got a public apology," Kevin Hawkins said by phone from his home in South Bend. "Notre Dame walked the talk when you talk about civil rights. That meant the world to him."

Hawkins' basketball teammate and future NFL Hall of Famer Paul Hornung led Hawkins back to the restaurant to secure the apology, his son said.

Kevin Hawkins said he spoke to his father almost daily and that they had recently discussed last weekend's civil unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Minneapolis Lakers selected Hawkins with the third pick in the first round of the 1959 NBA draft. He played one season in Minnesota before moving with the team to Los Angeles. He went on to play six seasons for the Lakers, averaging 9.0 points and 5.7 rebounds in 454 games.

The 6-foot-5 forward played for the Cincinnati Royals from 1962 to 1966. Hawkins recorded 6,672 points and 4,607 rebounds in his pro career.

"He was and will always be part of the Lakers family," team CEO and majority owner Jeanie Buss said. "His baritone voice and easy demeanor made him a favorite of the fans and media, as well as everyone who had the honor of calling him a friend."

Hawkins' influence continued beyond his playing days. As a player representative, he had a key role in establishing the first collective bargaining agreement between the players' union and the NBA.

Born Thomas Jerome Hawkins on Dec. 22, 1936, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, he moved to Chicago with his mother and aunt as a child. He starred at Parker High, now Robeson High, before being recruited by Notre Dame.

Kevin Hawkins recalled his father as a man with interests that ranged from poetry to jazz to sports. He self-published a book of poetry and was in the midst of writing a memoir on his basketball career when he died.

"My father was a person who didn't want to be defined as a jock or an ex-player," Kevin Hawkins said. "He was an eclectic man. He had stories about everything from Notre Dame to the NBA to broadcasting."

Hawkins enjoyed friendships with Alabama football coach Bear Bryant, UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, USC football coach John McKay and artist LeRoy Neiman.

"You think about a man who grew up in the projects of Chicago that had done all these things in his life," Kevin Hawkins said. "He called himself a cosmic functionary. That was his big deal. It made us all cringe, but he just loved it. He was a man of the world and a man of the people."

Hawkins' gregarious personality was on full display as master of ceremonies for the John R. Wooden Award presentation for more than 30 years before he passed on his emcee duties in 2011. He was co-national chairman of the award that honors the nation's top male and female college basketball players.

Hawkins was hired in 1987 by then-Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley to be vice president of communications and worked for the team until 2004.

"In life we are fortunate to know many people, and Tommy was one person I always looked forward to seeing and being with," said O'Malley, who sold the team in 1998. "He did an extraordinary job for the Dodgers as vice president, and his friendship will be missed by his family and many admirers."

The Dodgers had a moment of silence for Hawkins before their game against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night.

Before joining the Dodgers, Hawkins worked in radio and television in Southern California, including stints with KNBC-TV and KABC radio.

He is survived by his second wife, Layla, and their daughter, Neda; his first wife, Dori, and their children, Kevin, Karel, Traci and David; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

The family will likely hold a public memorial at a future date, Kevin Hawkins said.

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