Runaway hawk delays game vs. Heat

Updated: April 23, 2009, 10:11 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

ATLANTA -- The Hawks' real-life mascot got a little flying time during the playoffs.

[+] EnlargeSpirit the Hawk
AP Photo/John BazemoreSpirit, the Hawks' real-life mascot, got a bird's-eye view of first-quarter action.

Spirit, a hawk that flies down from the rafters during the pregame introductions, decided to hang around for the start of Game 2 against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.

The bird, who resides at Zoo Atlanta, was perched atop the scoreboard at tipoff, refusing to go to his handler. Then he swooped around the arena while the game was going on, landing on a railing in the lower deck before he settled on the top of the basket at the Hawks' end of the court.

Spirit had the best seats in the house -- atop the shot-clock camera over the backboard. But not everyone was thrilled that a real, live bird of prey was taking in the action from courtside.

"Somebody has to get this bird out of here," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said to someone at the scorer's table at one point in the first quarter, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Atlanta's Josh Smith and Al Horford looked more shaken than anyone.

"You see Al Horford duck and run, I was like, 'Let me run for cover as well,' " Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade said. "It was kind of weird having the hawk fly around. It's hard to play with your back to that hawk on the backboard."

When the players spotted the bird, they refused to go on. The game was halted with 8:28 remaining in the first quarter until the handler, John Elmore, finally arrived, luring Spirit to his arm and carrying him out of the arena to cheers from the crowd -- and several players.

According to the team Web site, Spirit, hatched in 1999, is a Harris hawk who makes about 250 appearances annually at Zoo Atlanta.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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