The Hawks are the only remaining NBL club to have competed in every season since the league's inception in 1979 without relocating to another city. The club was originally known as the Illawarra Hawks, the name referring to the Illawarra region rather than specifically its major urban centre Wollongong. The name change took place after the 1998 season; the team also adopted a new logo and moved to the new, 6,000 capacity WIN Entertainment Centre.
Prior to 1998 the Hawks played out of the Beaton Park Stadium, commonly known as "The Snakepit", located in Gwynneville, a suburb of Wollongong close to the city centre. The Snakepit had a reputation among players and coaches as one of the most feared venues in the league. Despite being only small (capacity 1,800), the fans were packed in close to the action making for an awesome atmosphere. Local supporters were known to lean over from the bar at the southern end of the court and shake the ring and even sometimes throw beer on opposition players as they entered the change room, while NBL folklore had the Illawarra Steelersrugby league team often sitting behind the opposition bench as an intimidation tactic. The Snakepit is still in use by the Hawks as a training venue and for pre-season matches.
During the 2007/2008 season, the Hawks experienced significant financial difficulty and as a result the team nearly was forced to withdraw prior to the completion of the season. A community ownership plan was developed, the Friends of the Hawks, along the lines of the Green Bay Packers of the American NFL.
In February 2009, Hawks Captain Mat Campbell started the "Save the Hawks" Campaign to make sure the last remaining foundation club would still exist in the National Basketball League. Mat and his small team reached their goal, thanks to the commitment of the Illawarra community, naming rights sponsor ahm Australian Health Management and a bank guarantee provided by Indianmining magnate Mr. Arun Jagatramka from Gujarat NRE.
On 14 July 2014, an Extraordinary General Meeting was held where members voted unanimously for a change in the clubs constitution to allow telecommunications entrepreneur, James Spenceley, to become the Club's new owner.