PDT Sports Writer
It may be hard to believe, but 30 years ago Dominique Wilkins was an NBA rookie.
A lot has changed, both with Wilkins and the sport of basketball since he was in his rookie season with the Atlanta Hawks. Wilkins, who was in Portsmouth earlier this week to announce his involvement with a community event associated with Diabetes, spoke exclusively with the Daily Times on the changes he has witnessed and his thoughts on the game at all levels.
Presently, Wilkins is the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Hawks and a television analyst on the team’s television network broadcasts. His NBA career ended in 2000 and he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, a moment in which he described as the crowning achievement in his professional life.
“The most important thing is that you are kind of anointed as one of the greatest sports figures of all time,” Wilkins said. “When you get that call … that immortalizes you.”
The first items he brought up to those who want to pursue their dreams, in any career field, would be to work on weaknesses and stay focused.
“Everybody is a little different, everybody has to find different things that works for them,” Wilkins said. “The worst thing we do is that we search for answers through other people or we search for the answers through what we read in the media instead of going out and getting physically involved. You’ve got to get involved in your life, being athletically, academically or physically, you have to be physically involved in anything you do.”
Growing up in Baltimore, basketball was the sport of choice as the area was nothing but concrete and pavement. At age 12, he knew he was going to become a professional basketball player.
His family moved to North Carolina when he was 16, where he went on to play at Washington High and for coach Dave Smith, who he described as being the biggest influence on his life next to his parents. Wilkins felt Smith was able to develop teenagers into adults.
“Basketball was easy, becoming young men and women back in the day was the hardest,” Wilkins said. “He shown you and taught you how to do that before becoming a great basketball player.”
Smith gave tough love to all of his pupils, including Wilkins. It paid off as the PamPak had a three-year stretch in which they had a 76-1 record. Wilkins went on to play three years at the University of Georgia.
When it comes to today’s rules for college players turning pro, Wilkins feels players should stay for a few years to gain experience rather than coming out too early and potentially getting lost in the shuffle. He feels players see the money as the reason to go rather than having the necessary understanding about the game itself. In life situations in general, he recommends family as the bigger influence of major decisions over friends.
Throughout the 1980s and early 90s, Wilkins was reaching his prime by attacking the rim so frequently with dunks that spawned his nickname “The Human Highlight Film.” But an Achilles tear during the 91-92 season created questions by skeptics on whether or not he would be back to his talent level.
The next season, he quieted critics, making a career-best 120 3-pointers in 71 games and finishing the season second in the league in scoring with a 29.9 average. He described the road from the injury to recovery as one of the most humbling experience he has been through.
“I came back and had my best all-around year,” Wilkins said. ” But not just as a basketball player, but as a person I was different. I was more committed to playing, more committed to taking my profession more serious.”
Wilkins always described himself as a hard worker, often being the first to workouts and the last one to leave. He also felt some didn’t take him seriously for being anything other than a dunker.
“It wasn’t who I was, I only used that for a tool of intimidation, but my game was about scoring and getting the defense back on their heels,” he said. “I had a complete game, a lot of people look at dunking and they didn’t realize I was a complete basketball player. I had games where I scored 40 and didn’t get a dunk.
During his early professional days, Wilkins believed the talent and level of competition was more balanced than what is currently in the league. The mentality of the players during his playing days was to beat each other on the floor during the regular season and play together only during All-Star Games.
“The competitiveness and the strength of the game, it was so strong then back then,” Wilkins said. “Even the bad teams had great players so you had no nights off. It was a different era.”
Now, as he is the face for the franchise that retired his No. 21 jersey, Wilkins does still get the urge to lace up the sneakers from time to time.
“As time goes on, it’s less and less, but you never lose that love for the game,” Wilkins said. “At least not me.”
When Wilkins makes his April 8 appearance into Portsmouth, he will be speaking on Diabetes awareness as he is a Type 2 Diabetic. He did not rule out adding a basketball instructional period to his plans.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 294, or firstname.lastname@example.org.