THE decision to drop the Illawarra name from the Hawks could signal the end for the NBL club's longest serving employee.
Eric Cooks joined the Hawks as a player in 1997 and moved into a coaching role with the club a few years later.
He has been on the Illawarra bench ever since and is respected around the league as a man of knowledge and integrity.
The Hawks unveiled their new ownership group last week and Cooks believes his 23-year tenure with the club might have come to an end.
"With them signalling their intentions to find a new coach, who will probably bring their own staff, it leaves my future up in the air," Cooks said.
The new owners are considering erasing 'Illawarra' from the franchise's name, which has been with the club since 1979 (except from when they were branded the Wollongong Hawks from 1998 to 2015), and will be known simply as the 'Hawks'.
"When I heard the news [about the name change], it was extremely disappointing," Cooks said.
"It's a worrying sign, if they're willing to drop the name, they might want to move the team away from the Illawarra in the coming seasons.
"On top of that, the club loses its identity and Illawarra fabric that has made it who it is today after 41 years.
"It's understandably ruffled some feathers but it's still early days."
The basketball journey of Cooks, who is from the city of Gary, Indiana, started at St Mary's College.
After four years with the Gaels, Cooks was enticed to Australia to join the Ballarat Miners - which just happened to be the first coaching gig for a little-known former NBL player named Brian Goorjian (who coincidentally has been mentioned as one of the candidates to coach the Hawks moving forward).
"Brian had been playing in Geelong and got speaking to his Dad Ed, who at the time was coaching a West Coast Conference rival of mine, Loyola Marymount University," Cooks said.
"Ed suggested he sign me and I became the first ever player Brian signed.
"At the time I came over, plenty of guys were pushing to come over to the NBL but it didn't faze me too much, as I was already working.
"But I went to the airport, actually met Cecil Exum [father of NBA player Dante] at the international departures and walked off the plane together in January 1986, before he signed with Bulleen. We are still friends to this day."
After Goorjian moved on, Cooks spent time under future NBL coaches Al Westover and Brendan Joyce during his 11-year stint with the Miners, capturing four SEABL championships.
In 1996 Joyce was named coach of the Hawks and Cooks, who had become an Australian citizen, followed him to Wollongong a year later.
"I'd always wanted to play in the NBL and a familiar face in Brendan, who I'd worked with for a number of years, gave me a chance," he said.
Although he'd watched the Hawks for a number of seasons, Cooks had never actually been to Wollongong.
Little did he know, the Illawarra would become his home for the next 23 years.
"I was pleasantly surprised by Wollongong when I first arrived," he said.
"And to have the opportunity to play in such a strong league like the NBL, with a club like Illawarra, was too good of an opportunity to pass up."
"My favourite memory as a player was in my second year when we won our last four or so games and snuck into the finals (with a 14-16 record)," he said.
"That run capped off with a win against Canberra in the final round - epitomising the never give up attitude of us Hawks, which still runs true now.
"In my opinion, these were the first steps to us achieving the 2001 championship."
Cooks said he happily accepted the club's offer to move into coaching.
"Being part of the team for four years already, I felt a connection to them and the area and jumped at the chance to coach with Brendan," he said.
"The transition was easy, as I already had such a strong rapport with the players - the hardest part was getting my head around not being able to get back into the heat of the battle and help my teammates."
Cooks was an assistant coach on the Hawks' 2001 title-winning team - the club's only championship to this day - and rates it as the fondest memory of his career.
"That was a season I'll never forget - everyone just came together so well," he said.
"All the series went to three games. We first beat Perth in Perth, then beat Adelaide before winning it all in Townsville.
"It was amazing to be able to do that for the people of the Illawarra."
In 2006-07 Cooks became the first ever former captain to coach the Hawks, taking over from Joyce mid-season after the latter was sacked over a conflict with management.
He was at the helm for the remainder of 2006-07 and the ensuing two seasons.
"It was a really special moment to be named as coach," Cooks said.
"It was a huge honour and something I'll cherish forever.
"I thought we were really competitive during those years, although it was a struggle to contend financially with some of the bigger clubs - which has been an issue for the Hawks for a while.
"It was also pleasing to see players I brought in, such as Cam Tragardh and Rhys Martin, flourish and enjoy long careers at the club."
In 2009-10 the Hawks hired Gordie McLeod and he wasted no time appointing Cooks as an assistant coach.
He continued in that role when Rob Beveridge took over from McLeod and stayed on last season as an assistant to rookie coach Matt Flinn.
"There have been plenty of peaks and valleys as you would suspect, over such a long period of time," Cooks said.
"When I first got here in 1997, we were community-owned by the local Illawarra Basketball Association, before John Carson took over until 2003.
"His injection of cash allowed us to recruit closer to the salary cap line and build that championship roster in 2001, including the likes of Mat Campbell and Glen Saville.
"This laid the long-term foundations for success for the club moving forward.
"Although we've only got one title, I believe success can be measured that we are the only team to compete for all 41 years of the competition - it's an accomplishment not just for the team but also the area.
"Despite all this, it was difficult to deal with all the off-court noise, including the uncertain future of the club.
"In some ways, you get used to it but you don't ever enjoy that kind of situation - it definitely gave us all thicker skin.
"I understand the nature of the beast, including year-to-year contracts, is what we've decided to be involved in.
"That added pressure definitely weighed on everyone at the club and it affected the way we played - especially when rumours circled mid-season."
While it hasn't all been a smooth ride, Cooks cherishes the countless good memories and experiences, including having both his sons Dominique and Xavier involved with the Hawks.
"To be able to go work with both my sons, doing what we all loved, was very special," he said.
"I know both of them enjoyed their time at the club.
"Dominique had two strong seasons with us while Xavier was one of the club's scholarship holders, giving him a foot in the door into the professional basketball system."
Both of his boys have moved on and Cooks is facing the prospect of cleaning out his locker after 23 years.
The club is expected to make a decision on their staff in the coming days.
If this is the end of his journey with the Hawks, Cooks is extremely grateful for each of the past 23 years.
He singled out players like Melvin Thomas, Charles Thomas, Darnell Mee, Rotnei Clarke and Cortez Groves as the best he'd coached during his tenure with the club.
"If Flinny [Matt Flinn] was coming back as the coach, I was definitely going to be involved again," Cooks said.
"Just like in real life, you learn from each and every situation you go through and how it impacts and can benefit your life.
"When I first moved here from Ballarat, I never envisioned I would still be here 23 years later but I fell in love with the place - especially the warmer weather.
"I can still remember wearing gloves to training sessions in Ballarat it was that cold.
"If this is the end, I'll obviously be sad but I'll also feel very blessed - there are so many guys who would have loved to be involved in the club as long as I have.
"I can't thank everyone in the Illawarra enough for letting me be a part of this club for 23 years."