1982–1992: Early years
After winning the Conference Basketball League (CBL) Invitational championship in 1982, the Napier Sunhawks were promoted to the National Basketball League for the 1983 season. They managed to make the playoffs in their first NBL season, but finished second last in 1984, and last in 1985. The team was renamed the Hawke’s Bay Hawks for the 1986 season but continued to struggle in the years to come, as they had trouble attracting star players and quality imports, mainly because of the appeal of the city-based sides such as Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington. They did manage to recruit Jamie Dixonas an overseas player in the late 1980s.
1993–1997: Playoff streak
After not qualifying for a playoff spot since their debut season in 1983, the Hawks managed to break their hoodoo in 1993 as they made the semi-finals and received all-round praise from those who had been suggesting in previous years they should be removed from the competition. The following season, the Hawks continued their good form, finishing third for the second straight year. It was then in 1995 that the Hawks got their first taste of the NBL finals before losing to the dominant Auckland Rebels. It was a huge transformation from a club struggling to keep their place in the league to a team who were genuine title contenders. The next two years in 1996 and 1997, the Hawks continued their playoff streak but lost comprehensively both times.
1998–2003: Fall from grace
The Hawks began a slow decline from the heights of the previous five years in 1998, as the side finished in second last. This finish demoted them to the CBL, where they spent the 1999 season. However, after finishing as CBL runners-up in 1999, they were readmitted to the NBL in 2000, but finished last again. In the early 2000s, the league was dominated by Pero Cameron’s Waikato Titansand the Hawks finished second last in both 2001 and 2002, forcing the club to rethink and retool. They faired a little better in 2003, finishing sixth with an 8–10 record.
2004–2008: Hawks take flight
In 2004, with the likes of Australian Scott McGregor and local heroes Adrian Majstrovich, Paora Winitana, Paul Henare and Aidan Daly, the Hawks began to re-earn their status as title contenders. 2004 saw them lose after a second place regular season finish in the semi-final to the Nelson Giants, 69–51. Majstrovich was named the competition’s Most Valuable Player, while CEO Jeremy Bayliss was named administrator of the year.
2005 saw the Hawks add naturalised Kiwi Willie Burton (who came out of retirement) and Australian NBL player Dusty Rychart, but again finished second place and eventually lost in a dramatic grand final to the Auckland Stars, 69–68. CEO Jeremy Bayliss was once again named administrator of the year, while Paul Henare won another assists title and earned All-Star five honours.
In 2006, the Hawks won their first ever NBL championship with a resounding win over the Auckland Stars, 84–69. The win marked Willie Burton’s first ever NBL championship after 21 years playing in the league. It was also Burton’s last game in the New Zealand NBL. The Hawks’ tremendous season saw them dominate the awards night with Paora Winitana picking up the Most Valuable Player, Most Valuable Guard, Most Valuable Kiwi Guard, was a member of the All-Star five, and was named Finals MVP after an outstanding defensive show case.
On February 22, 2007, the Hawks played the 2006 ABA champions the Geelong Supercats at Pettigrew Green Arena in a challenge match initiated by the Hawks as a battle for Trans-Tasman supremacy. The final score was 84–69 in favour of the Hawks. The 2007 season was another successful one as the club made the grand final before losing the best-of-three series 2–0 to the Nelson Giants. 2008 then saw the Hawks drop off as they finished the regular season in fourth spot and lost again to the Nelson Giants in the newly revamped quarter-finals, 78–75.
2009–2010: Rebuilding stage
After losing Paul Henare and Paora Winitana to the Christchurch Cougars in 2009, the Hawks were forced to rebuild with the likes of Jeremy Kench and Jarrod Kenny. They surprised many with the side making the quarter-finals where they lost to the Wellington Saints, 80–75.
With the loss of Jeremy Kench for the 2010 season, imports Jamil Terrel (later replaced by Jon Rogers) and David Langrell were forced to carry a huge load. The team lost to the Christchurch Cougars and defeated the debutant Southland Sharks in Round 1 of the new season. They had another two wins and two losses in the rounds to come, and continued to secure wins to earn a playoff berth in 2010. They finished the regular season in fifth spot with an 11–7 record, going on to lose to the Wellington Saints in the semi-finals.
2011–present: Continued success and missed opportunities
2011 saw the Hawks return to real playoff contention as they finished third on the ladder with a 12–4 record, as the went on to defeat the sixth placed Southland Sharks in the quarter-finals and the second placed Waikato Pistons in the semi-finals. The Hawks then faced the Wellington Saints in the grand final, where they lost the one-game series 106–97.
Following the Hawks’ rise in 2011, the 2012 season saw the club climb even higher as they finished the regular season in first place on the ladder for the first time club history with a 13–3 record. However, despite finishing first, the Hawks were defeated once again by the fourth placed Wellington Saints, this time in the semi-finals, losing the one-game series 94–88.
The 2013 season was a very disappointing season for the Hawks as they finished seventh with a dismal 5–11 record. Determined to rectify such a poor season, the club brought back former import Kareem Johnson and nabbed 6’8″ forward Dustin Scott as the second import for 2014, and alongside Jarrod Kenny, Paora Winitana and Everard Bartlett, the Hawks returned to the top of the ladder, finishing the regular season with a 15–3 record. After rolling past the Southland Sharks in the semi-finals, the Hawks faced their long-time nemesis the Wellington Saints in the grand final. Their meeting marked the fifth time in six years the two teams faced off in the playoffs, and the second time in four years that they faced off in the grand final. Despite looking to turn the tables around in their favour following consecutive playoff defeats at the hand of the Saints, the Hawks were again outclassed, losing the grand final in emphatic fashion, as the Saints claimed victory with an 85–69 win.
After the Hawks were unable to get in contact with star import and expected returnee Dustin Scott, and with the departure of Kareem Johnson, the club nabbed two new quality imports for the 2015 season in Suleiman Braimoh and Zack Atkinson – both past New Zealand NBL players to have dominated the league in the front court. In addition, former Nelson Giants head coach Liam Flynn took over the head coaching duties from Tab Baldwin who left to coach in the Philippines. However, after starting the season with a 4–8 win/loss record, the Hawks released Flynn from his head coaching duties and replaced him with co-captain and long-time Hawk Paora Winitana. The Hawks finished what was a disappointing season with a dismal 6–12 win/loss record to once again miss the playoffs.
On 8 December 2015, former Hawks assistant coach Kirstin Daly-Taylor was named the team’s head coach for the next five years, becoming one of the rare women to take control of a men’s team at a domestic level. The following week, the Hawks signed two Guamian players for the 2016 season – Joe Blas and Will Stinnett.