Archive 75

Dominique Wilkins

By Shaun Powell·

The careers of most players are born on the court. There is one that was born in a TV production truck.

That would be Dominique Wilkins, also known as "The Human Highlight Film," showing nightly right after the evening news.

His game was made for the broadcast medium because it demanded an audience and instant replay. With gravity-defying hops and a tendency to dunk with the greatest authority and strength, Wilkins was created for entertainment purposes, and he rarely disappointed.

Wilkins was drafted by the Jazz in 1982, then immediately traded to the Hawks in what was Atlanta’s best decision ever.

Not only was he from the nearby University of Georgia and therefore familiar to local basketball fans, but ‘Nique was a raw talent with energy, exactly what the franchise needed. And he showed as much in his first game, against the Pistons.

Wilkins wasted no time giving a smashing impression. He had 30 points in his third NBA game.

And he smashed the perception of him being a dunk-only artist. With a variety of moves and jump shots, Wilkins generated offense in multiple ways, not just dunking, although he was hardly bashful about doing that.

The Hawks, thirsty for a star and hungry to win, were thrilled over their young and emerging star, someone who would eventually turn their games into a must-see event.

Imagine the audacity of a player who relishes the challenge of competing against Michael Jordan, and then dares to outplay him?

Such was the case in 1987 when Wilkins and Jordan dueled in Atlanta and put themselves in position to engage in a two-man, back-and-forth show, with jumpers, acrobatic layups and dunks, of course.

Would Wilkins be denied by Jordan or whatever defense the Bulls offered? Could he issue a statement that night in Atlanta, and one that certainly was seen and heard around the league?

At such an early stage in his career, Wilkins had his chance to arrive. And he did so gloriously and spectacularly.

Game 7, 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals, Boston Garden. That was the scene where legend took hold. In the history of the NBA, rich with fabulous showdowns between opposing players, few if any were more memorable than Larry Bird vs. Dominique Wilkins.

The fourth quarter, especially, was thick with drama, comebacks and I’ll-show-you moments. Bird was already an established megastar, destined for the Hall of Fame and on everyone’s list of greatest players of all time.

Wilkins was a riser who searched for respect, and the only place he could gain that was in this game, against this team, and against this player. Greatness demanded greatness in return.

And Wilkins was up for the challenge in a tight finish that squeezed everything he had to offer.



Wilkins suffered a career detour in 1992 at age 32 when he tore his Achilles tendon. Such an injury can be a deal-breaker for any athlete, especially one that relies on jumping.

It became a crossroads of sorts for Wilkins, who was suddenly grounded by the surgery and rehab. He had another sort of challenge to conquer. He could surrender or soar again.

He chose the latter, meaning, he chose wisely. Of all the NBA players who suffered a similar injury, none rebounded and rallied quite like Wilkins, who recovered, became an All-Star the following season and finished second only to Michael Jordan for the scoring lead when he averaged nearly 29.9 points.

Wilkins had a peculiar relationship with dunks. He once said those dunks overshadowed his ability to score in other ways, mentioning that nobody reaches 26,668 career points on dunks alone. Then again, Wilkins was defined, fairly or not, for his ability to get folks leaping out of their chairs. And that was from his stupendous ability to defy gravity and improvise multiple ways to send the ball forcefully through the hoop. Clearly, he enjoyed the execution, and obviously, we enjoyed the finished product. His nickname was "The Human Highlight Film" for a reason.