Dominique Wilkins spent 12 years with Atlanta sealing his legacy as the NBA’s "Human Highlight Film." With high-flying dunks the nine-time All-Star led his Hawks to the playoffs eight times and the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Wilkins was in Gainesville on Wednesday to speak to a group associated with the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce at the Georgia Mountains Center.
Times sports writer Katie B. Davis sat down with Wilkins to talk about his years in the NBA, his thoughts on the status of the upcoming Hawks’ season and the newly acquired WNBA franchise coming to Atlanta.
Question: You had your jersey retired by Atlanta in 2001, spent 12 years with the organization, how involved are you with the Hawks these days and in what capacity?
Answer: Well, I wear a lot of different hats with the Hawks. I am Vice President of Basketball and I kind of do a lot of different things. From a business side, I’m very involved with bridging relationships and partnerships, those sort of things. From a basketball side a lot of developing of players as far as giving back the knowledge that I was taught and that’s a big satisfaction for me because I still feel like I have a lot to give to the game and to give it to these young guys, that’s what’s important.
Q: It’s safe to say that you were instrumental in what can only be described as the glory days for the Hawks. What, in your opinion, does Atlanta have to do to again have the kind of success the organization had in the 1980s?
A: We have to become more consistent as a team and have a more consistent focus. Winning cures all and I think because our team’s so young, we’re still the youngest team in the NBA even though we have veteran players, we haven’t gotten that consistency. I feel this year is going to be a good year for us barring injury.
Q: On a day-to-day basis, what do you do? Do you go down to practice with the guys?
A: Everyday, everyday I’m at practice and I’m at every game. I am very involved.
Q: You left college early, after your junior year, to pursue a pro career, what are your thoughts on college athletes leaving school after only one year? What are your thoughts on players being mandated to attend one year of college?
A: My thoughts on players going from high school to the professional ranks is, how do I want to put this? I think a lot of guys need a little more seasoning and they’re not ready to make that step because the NBA is a major responsibility. Being a young man coming into the NBA, you have to be physically and mentally ready and you get a lot of those kids in the past that have the physical ability but they weren’t mentally ready to make that big step. I think if a guy coming out of college, is physically and mentally ready then I’m all for him leaving early. I knew I was ready after my third year, they tried to get me to come out my first year of college but I wasn’t mentally ready and I was having too much fun in college.
Q: What attributes to a guy being mentally and physically ready?
A: The mental part is having to deal with that 82 game grind. That is a major part of professional sports, I mean, you go from 30 games in college to 80 in the pros and you’re playing grown men.
Q: Are you still involved at all with the University of Georgia’s men’s basketball program?
A: I get down to Athens quite a bit, coach (Dennis) Felton and I have got a very close relationship and have become very good friends.
Q: And what will help the Bulldogs’ program become winners?
A: It’s just going to take consistency and building chemistry and that only happens with the right structure in place and believing that you are going to win.
Q: The City of Atlanta now has a WNBA team, is the market in Atlanta good enough to sustain a women’s franchise?
A: Oh yes. I think Atlanta has been waiting for a major women’s professional sport and the WNBA will go over well. I’m surprised it took this long for us to get something and the fact that they’re playing in Phillips Arena gives all those demographics a chance to see them.
Q: I can’t let this opportunity pass by without asking you a few questions about your career. You had an epic Game 7 scoring battle in the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals with Larry Bird. As best as you can, describe a Game 7 at the Boston Garden where your team only loses by two points to the eventual World Champion Boston Celtics.
A: Probably one of the greatest seventh games ever played because you had two great players who refused to lose. There was only one player on that court that was going to match my will and that was Larry Bird. It ended up being one of the most incredible shootouts in history with two guys who had over 20 points going into the fourth quarter. I remember Bird saying to me towards the end of the game, ‘You know what we both deserve to win and you can walk out of here with your head held high.’"
Q: Your Atlanta Hawks were one of the only teams in the 80s to sweep much less beat the Detroit Pistons. Exactly how dirty was their style of play?
A: Detroit was very dirty from start to finish and they did whatever it took to win. If you weren’t ready to battle that kind of play you got sent home and sent home sore. We were a physical team too though and we welcomed confrontation, we could give it back as well as we could take it.
Q: What was your favorite arena to play in and why?
A: I’ve got quite a few, the Los Angeles Forum, Chicago Bulls Arena and the Boston Garden. I also loved Madison Square Garden.
Q: Who was your favorite player to go up against and why?
A: It’s more from an emotional standpoint than anything else, but Dr. J. He was that guy I wanted to grow up and be like and it was a thrill to play against him, I mean, it was the doctor!
Q: Did you have an agenda in the five slam dunk contests you entered or did you just whatever felt right at the moment?
A: Everything I did was spontaneous. I never practiced dunks and I tell people all the time, I scored over 26,000 points and it’s hard to do that just with dunks. I used dunks as an intimidation tool but it didn’t signify who I was. When you are a great athlete and a high-wire act then people label you as a great dunker. But if people look back on my career they see that I only averaged two or three dunks a game, that’s what made the highlight reels, but they were never that great.
Q: What was it like to watch the 5’6 Spud Webb fly during the 1986 slam dunk contest?
A: We all knew he could fly but I think he lied because he said he never practiced dunks yet some of the dunks he did you had to practice because they were timing dunks. I was really happy for him at the time. We didn’t know if he would make it in the NBA, he was a little guy and he was cute but he was a player. I think that slam dunk contest helped him a lot and it’s the reason why he stuck in the league as long as he did.
Q: Looking back on your career what do you hope was the legacy left?
A: That I played 110-percent everyday and every night and didn’t make excuses and led by example. I didn’t talk a lot and as a result we went five or six years winning 50 games or more and went to the playoffs 8 of 12 years which isn’t a bad record.