Dominique Wilkins is owed apologies from a lot of you people.
That restaurant in Buckhead 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: Whenever ’Nique wants a seat, he gets a seat no matter if it’s Buckhead, Kennesaw, Midtown or Mableton.
He’s also owed an apology from the Atlanta Hawks for trading him the year they finally earned the No. 1 seed in the East in 1994, following a season in which he averaged 29.9 points per game while coming back off of a ruptured Achilles tendon. The statue in front of State Farm Arena isn’t enough. Somewhere engraved in the base needs to 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 be from the NBA and that Blue Ribbon Panel that selected the 50 greatest players in the history of the sport in 1996. For some reason, Dominique Wilkins was left off of that list.
That’s right, The Human Highlight Film, 26,668 career points (14th all time), a man who would dunk on 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 in which the NBA seemingly overnight, went from a tape delayed product to it’s golden era. The league had stars in every big 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 had not gone through its period of expansion when it added six teams in eight years, and for most of the 1980s had only 23 teams. That allowed Bird to play with Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson and Robert Parish, Johnson to play with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and eventually James Worthy, and an aging Julius Erving to play with Moses Malone and Andrew Toney.
Those three teams won nine championships in the decade, the Celtics and Lakers winning 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, by the time 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 at their best. 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 member) James Worthy and Dominique is that James had Magic Johnson and Dominique had me.”
Rivers wasn’t Johnson, but Stephen A. Smith never would’ve called him scrub. In 1988 Rivers made his only all-star appearance, averaging 14.2 points per game and 9.3 assists. Coincidentally, that’s the year that Wilkins’ Hawks had their best showing in the NBA Playoffs when they lost an NBA Hardwood Classic Game 7 to the Celtics at the old Boston garden. Wilkins scored 47 points on 57.6 percent shooting in that game. In Wilkins’ time with the Hawks only once did another player besides him average 20 points per game, Moses Malone in his 14th season.
Still, Wilkins was able to lead the Hawks to their best stretch in franchise history, four consecutive seasons of 50 or more wins. They have won 50 or more games in consecutive seasons once since Wilkins was traded, and never prior to drafting him. Even the 2020-21 Hawks that made 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 why Wilkins not making that list is a traveshamockery:
Everyone knows a handful of stats, and some people are a walking baseball-reference, but the numbers are not why your favorite athletes are your favorites. They are your favorites because of what you saw them do.
David Ortiz is one of your favorite athletes because of the walk-offs that helped end the Boston Red Sox World Series drought. Serena Williams is one of your favorite athletes because her serve is as fast as your car on the autobahn. Joe Louis is one of your favorite athletes because you felt like he had US Steel in his boxing gloves.
Dominique Wilkins put on one of the greatest shows on earth. A one man circus. No lion, no ringmaster, no clown, just one acrobat dunking on 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 most fun players to ever watch play basketball.
Wilkins will more than likely be one of the NBA’s 75 greatest players list when the list is unveiled at the start of the 2021-22 NBA season but that’s not enough. Whenever and wherever that list is published it should always be with an asterisk.*
*We the National Basketball Association lost our rabid ass minds by not including Dominique Wilkins on the original 50 Greatest Players list. Our sincerest apologies to The Human Highlight Film.