At age 51, Dominique Wilkins can still throw it down when the urge strikes. The flashes of gravity-defying brilliance may be less frequent these days but the footwork required for the breathtaking throw-down move is still the same.
It was just one of the fundamentals Wilkins mastered all the way to Springfield, Massachusetts as a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Every great player's basketball journey started somewhere and for Wilkins, that road to greatness began at a local Boys & Girls Club in Baltimore. While Wilkins received his street education on the playgrounds of Baltimore, the structured basketball curriculum was taught by a Boys & Girls Club employee.
Yet basketball wasn't the sole subject Wilkins studied at the Boys & Girls Club. Outside the gym, he received an education in life skills, accountability, and responsibility which played an invaluable role in his development.
Wilkins is one of the many Boys & Girls Club success stories. So, it wasn't surprising when the organization recently inducted Wilkins into its Hall of Fame.
John Hareas of NBA.com spoke to Wilkins about his latest honor and the importance the Boys & Girls Club played in his life.
NBA.com: What was your first connection to the Boys & Girls Club?
Dominique Wilkins: It was in Baltimore. I was around 13 or 14. Back in those days it was known as the Boys Club (laughs). It was a place where kids could go and have a good time. It was really a safe haven in the neighborhood. I participated in a lot of activities and sports there ' basketball, baseball ' you name it. It was also a place to get free lunches. It was a good organization.
NBA.com: What role did the Boys & Girls Club play in your overall basketball development?
Dominique Wilkins: It helped me a lot. I received my basketball education at the Boys Club and on the playgrounds of Baltimore. One of the guys who taught me how to play the game was this guy named Harold, who worked at the Boys & Girls Club. I learned a lot from him such as fundamentals plus I was able to play in an actual gym. When I wasn't in the gym, I was at the playgrounds. I got what they called was a street education -- real street basketball, which teaches you respect and just appreciating the game. If you look at street basketball today, it is nothing like it was back in those days. There wasn't the disrespect. Guys respected the game and if you couldn't play, you never played.
NBA.com: Outside of the gym, how did the Boys & Girls Club help your overall personal development?
Dominique Wilkins: The biggest thing I learned was respect ' how to respect yourself and others. And try to build on your character. The Boys and Girls Club provided you with different outlets to work on as you grow as a young male or female. The Boys and Girls Club helps kids with structure in their life and have people around them that really care about the neighborhood and how they live. It gives them a place to visit to not only participate in athletics but learn valuable life skills. It taught me how to become a young man because I had been on my own at a very early age so that was a very important time for me. Attending the Boys & Girls Club really helped me with values, focus and structure and those are some of the reasons I succeeded later in life. On and off the court.
NBA.com: And now you're inducted into the Boys & Girls Club Alumni Hall of Fame.
Dominique Wilkins: It's a wonderful honor because it shows your personal side. It's not just about basketball, but it's about life. That is the most important thing to me. That's why I'm so excited about the recognition because it shows another entire side of you as a person outside of just athletics. It shows your human side, someone who is helping people grow and fulfill their dreams.
NBA.com: What is your involvement with the Boys & Girls Club today?
Dominique Wilkins: I stay involved. I do events for them. I work with the kids and visit various Boys & Girls Clubs around the country. What impresses me is the Boys and Girls Clubs are constantly adding activities, curriculums for kids and families within those communities, giving them some good family values that they can then learn from. These facilities are in these neighborhoods to help the neighborhood itself. They have been doing this for a very, very long time. You see some organizations that talk the talk but they can't walk the walk. Well, the Boys & Girls Clubs are actively and physically involved in everything they do and everything they talk about within these communities.
NBA.com: The Boys & Girls Clubs are playing just as an important role now as they did back when you attended more than 30 years ago.
Dominique Wilkins: Absolutely. They help provide the roadmap to success because they understand their value and what they bring in those communities and what is desperately needed, so they try to orchestrate something that will work for each individual who wants that help. That's the thing -- you have to want the help. Ultimately, at the end of the day, no matter what the Boys & Girls Clubs provide, you as a person have to want that help and if you want that help, they'll expend enough resources to make sure people get the help they need. I encourage people to seek out the Boys and Girls Clubs in their neighborhood, especially if they are unsure about things in their life whether it's dealing with a family or personal situation they may experience. Chances are, there is a Boys and Girls Club near you and I would definitely take advantage of the opportunity. I did and was well worthwhile.