It appears the Atlanta Hawks are still celebrating a playoff victory from two seasons ago. And one particular dunk from that heated series in 2021 reminds a running joke in the locker room there.
The Hawks held Media Day on Friday, September 23 to usher in the start of training camp. According to a Twitter photo, the team held a birthday party for John Collins (he turned 25) and presented the star forward with a cake. Innocent enough, right? Zoom in. The luscious dessert has a custom-designed topper: it shows Collins dunking on Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid.
The questionable slam is from Game 6 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Replays showed the refs missed an offensive foul call on the play, but nothing was called. Collins went on to rub Embiid’s nose in it by having a T-shirt printed up with the dunk on it. Then, he wore it to his post-game press conference after the Hawks eliminated the Sixers in Game 7.
The Embiid-Collins beef actually started in 2018, according to a timeline of events compiled by The Athletic. Collins had been taking mental notes of a slew of perceived slights by Embiid. It all came to a head in the 2021 playoffs.
“It’s definitely funny,” Collins said, via Chris Kirschner. “I know Joel says a lot. I know a lot of people were asking why I did what I did to him and why I made the shirt. As a man, I don’t feel like I need to get into it, but I feel like there’s a lot of stuff there for why we played so hard and why it was a tough series. We wanted to prove a point for a number of reasons. There were a bunch of different things that added fuel to our fire in that series.”
Sixers, James Harden Have ‘Championship or Bust’ Mindset
Atlanta beat Philadelphia in Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals, leading to a bitter breakup with Ben Simmons and the eventual trade for James Harden. You could argue that the Hawks did the Sixers a favor. Philadelphia is a much better team today than it was during that failed postseason run. They have championship or bust aspirations this season.
“I told Daryl [Morey] to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign and give me whatever is left over,” Harden told Yahoo Sports. “This is how bad I want to win. I want to compete for a championship. That’s all that matters to me at this stage.”
Hawks Make Blockbuster Trade for Dejounte Murray
The Hawks made a major upgrade to their backcourt this offseason by trading for All-Star Dejounte Murray. They gave up a lot to get him — highlighted by first-round picks in 2023, 2025, and 2027 — but Murray is a triple-double machine who averaged 21.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 9.2 assists per game last season for the San Antonio Spurs.
Needless to say, expectations are running high in Atlanta with talks of their own championship run. Murray could be the missing link, per new backcourt mate Trae Young.
“I wanna win championships in Atlanta,” Young said. “I think he can ultimately help take us to that level. We’ve been in the playoffs, we’ve been on a run, but he can take us to that next level.”