At least for the time being, the playoff-bound Hawks are the talk of the town

Normally the local jargon discussed at sports bars or the barber shop this time of year includes Chipper Jones' batting average, who's the best driver in NASCAR and spring football practice at UGA or Tech.

However, this spring, the Braves, the Chase for the Cup and college football will have to make room in the Georgia sports dinning hall as the Hawks move from the kiddy corner and pull up a chair at the adults table.

Hopefully the team brought their appetite as the playoff-starved Hawks make their 21st century postseason debut this weekend.

Atlanta ended an eight-year playoff drought, which was the longest streak in the NBA, and plays their first meaningful springtime game since 1999 when Roy Barnes was five months into his term as governor.

Back then the first-round series was a best-of-five match with Atlanta beating Detroit 3-2.

Now, after clinching their first playoff berth since the pre-dawn scare of Y2K, the eighth-seeded Hawks are rewarded with a series versus the Boston Celtics, owners of the best record in the NBA.

While nobody is putting Boston on upset alert, except for maybe the players' family and friends, it's still good to see the local team in the playoffs, even with their sub-.500 record.

It's been a long, long time since NBA basketball has had any relevance in Atlanta.

Back in the day, guys like Wayne "Tree" Rollins, Doc Rivers and Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins used to light up The Omni in front of a packed house.

But, since trading 'Nique to the Los Angeles Clippers in February 1994, the Hawks have been dying a slow and painful death that not even the medical personnel at the Centers for Disease Control could cure.

Following its playoff run in 1999, Atlanta posted 10-straight losing seasons.

During this ugly span of front office dysfunction, suspect coaching, bogus playoff guarantees, questionable draft day selections as well as head-scratching trades and free-agent acquisitions, the Hawks had six seasons with over 50 losses, including the abysmal 2004-05 campaign where they went 13-69.

These horrific teams turned Philips Arena into a dormant venue with more empty seats than ticket scalpers walking the streets.

Unless superstars like Kobe, LeBron or Iverson paid a visit, you could practically go to the window five minutes before tip off and still find a good seat.

Team promotions were a nightly feature as staff marketing executives were forced to create all types of giveaways and post-game concerts just to put bodies in the stands.

The poor product on the court, combined with fickle-minded fans led to locals turning on their hometown squad.

I remember covering Michael Jordan's final game in Atlanta and listening to fans boo after Shareef Abdur-Rahim hit the game-winning shot to send Jordan away with a loss.

The crescendo of fan frustration occurred when they passed on point guard Chris Paul for forward Marvin Williams in the 2005 NBA Draft. However, they finally filled their long-lasting need for a star floor general after trading for Mike Bibby in February. I firmly believe, as sure as the sun rises in the east, that he's the main reason for their participation in this year's playoffs.

Now, after taking baby steps and clinching a postseason berth, it's time for management to build by surrounding it's young core with muscle and depth on the bench.

Although they're light years away from the power squads of the loaded Western Conference, but if they add a piece here and there, the Hawks have the potential to become a viable player the Eastern Conference in the future.

Rory Sharrock is a sports writer for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. His column runs every Thursday. He can be reached at rsharrock@news-daily.com