If you're looking for one reason why the Atlanta Hawks have struggled so mightily, look at Dwight Howard(notes). If you're looking for some more, try the entire Magic team who have outplayed their opponents almost across the board. But if that's not enough evidence for Atlanta's struggles, perhaps you should look to the skies of Phillips Arena, and there you'll find yet another reason for Atlanta's demise.
Or rather, what you'll find is nothing, and that might be the problem. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel found out that Spirit, the Hawks' flying mascot, is no more.
The bird of prey became nationally known as the bird who stopped play. The game was delayed until Spirit's trainer coaxed him down from the backboard. And as the trainer left the building with Spirit on his arm, the crowd roared its approval.
Sadly, that was the end of Spirit's basketball career. The hawk was permanently benched and even given a Van Gundy-like verbal reprimand by NBA Commissioner David Stern, who said at the time, "I'm not excited about the Hawks having a bird that's not well-behaved."
Now Spirit spends his days in exile at the Atlanta zoo, where Sentinel photographer Gary Green and I went in search of him Sunday. True story: We were rebuked by several zoo employees who said they were not permitted to speak to the media. When we tried to question one employee about Spirit's whereabouts, all she would say is, "I just clean up monkey poop."
It must be tough being a trained bird. The one time you decide to catch some of the game from a literal bird's eye view, you get put in bird jail. But as we all know, bird law in this country is not governed by reason.
Nonetheless, Bianchi continued digging for the true whereabouts of Spirit — now named either "Tahoe" or "Alamo" — only to discover that things haven't turned out too well after the hawk's fall from glory.
When we asked the whereabouts of Spirit/Tahoe, we were informed he was "behind the scenes" and not performing. It seems he is overweight after recently killing and devouring an unlucky chipmunk.
"Fat birds don't fly," a zoo employee said.
Truer words have never been spoken, my friends.
Clearly, the loss of their fine feathered friend is affecting Atlanta. If the Hawks hope to make a miraculous recovery in their series with the Magic, the team and their fans must hope for a quick and touching reunion, just like when Ross found Marcel. As Josh Smith(notes) says, "I sorta miss that bird."
We all do, Josh, every single one of us.