Dominique Wilkins owes apologies from many of you.
That restaurant in Buckhead He apologized for not seating him because of his attire, but that deserved a joint apology from the restaurant community in metro Atlanta along with this edict: Every time ‘Nique wants a seat, she gets a seat no matter if it’s Buckhead, Kennesaw, Midtown or Mableton.
He also owes him an apology from the Atlanta Hawks for trading him the year they finally got the No. 1 seed in the East in 1994, following a season in which he averaged 29.9 points per game while recovering from a break in the East. Achilles tendon. The statue in front of State Farm Arena is not enough. Somewhere recorded on the base should be “The Atlanta Hawks Basketball Organization apologizes for trading Metro Atlanta’s most beloved athlete, not named Hank Aaron, to the Clippers while he could still play.”
However, the biggest apology should come from the NBA and the Blue Ribbon Panel that selected the 50 greatest players in the history of the sport in 1996. For whatever reason, Dominique Wilkins was left off that list.
That’s right, The Human Highlight Film, 26,668 career points (14th of all time), a man who plunged into opponents with the fury of Zeus was not considered one of the 50 greatest players of all time.
Wilkins played most of his NBA career in the 1980s. A time when the NBA, seemingly overnight, went from being a backward product on tape to its golden age. The league had stars in every major market, Magic Johnson in Los Angeles, Larry Bird with the Boston Celtics, Julius Erving with the Philadelphia 76ers and Bernard King with the New York Knicks.
Those players also benefited from a league that hadn’t gone through its expansion period when it added six teams in eight years, and for most of the 1980s it only had 23 teams. That allowed Bird to play Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson and Robert Parish, Johnson to play Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and finally James Worthy, and an elderly Julius Erving to play Moses Malone and Andrew Toney.
Those three teams won nine championships in the decade, the Celtics and Lakers won eight. The other team to win a title that decade was the Detroit Pistons in the 1988-89 season. That season they had five players who, when their careers ended, had multiple All-Star appearances. That was a fact both before and after the Adrian Dantley trade.
Wilkins never had the talent on his team to be a threat to any of those teams in their prime. Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers once expressed his disappointment with Wilkins not being one of the original 50 greats in a brilliant line of poetry. “The difference between (top 50) James Worthy and Dominique is that James had Magic Johnson and Dominique had me.”
Rivers wasn’t Johnson, but Stephen A. Smith would never have called him scrub. In 1988, Rivers made his only stellar appearance, averaging 14.2 points per game and 9.3 assists. Coincidentally, that was the year the Wilkins Hawks had their best performance in the NBA Playoffs when they lost a Game 7 of the NBA Hardwood Classic to the Celtics in the old Boston outfield. Wilkins scored 47 points on 57.6 percent shooting in that game. In Wilkins’ time with the Hawks, only once has another player besides him averaged 20 points per game, Moses Malone in his fourteenth season.
Still, Wilkins was able to lead the Hawks to their best streak in franchise history, four consecutive 50-win seasons. They have won 50 or more games in consecutive seasons once since Wilkins was traded, and never before drafting him. Even the 2020-21 Hawks who made it to the Eastern Conference Finals wouldn’t have won 50 games if you apply their winning percentage to a full 82-game season.
Wilkins averaged 26.4 points per game in 11½ seasons with the Hawks, shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 81.3 percent from the free throw line. However, let’s get to the main reason Wilkins isn’t on that list is a traveshamocker:
Everybody knows a handful of stats, and some people are a walking baseball benchmark, but the numbers don’t explain why their favorite athletes are their favorites. They are your favorites because of what you saw them do.
David Ortiz is one of their favorite athletes because of the outings that helped end the Boston Red Sox’s World Series drought. Serena Williams is one of your favorite athletes because her service is as fast as your car on the highway. Joe Louis is one of his favorite athletes because he felt like he had US Steel in his boxing gloves.
Dominique Wilkins organized one of the best shows in the world. A one-man circus. No lion, no master of ceremonies, no clown, just an acrobat immersing himself in the entire NBA at a time when the game was mostly played under the rim. He was a trendsetter, he was a star in a loaded NBA, and he was one of the funniest players ever to play basketball.
Wilkins is more than likely to be one of the NBA’s top 75 players when the roster is unveiled at the start of the NBA’s 2021-22 season, but that’s not enough. Whenever and wherever that list is posted, it should always be with an asterisk. *
* We, the National Basketball Association, lost our minds by not including Dominique Wilkins in the original Top 50 Players list. Our sincerest apologies to The Human Highlight Film.