I am going on the record as saying that Dominique Wilkins is one of the single most underrated elite players in the history of the league. He retired as the number 7 player in career points. He has a 24.8 career scoring average. His NBA career began as the 3rd pick in the 1982 draft – behind James Worthy (UNC – to the Los Angeles Lakers) and Terry Cummings (Depaul – to the San Diego Clippers). I won’t recap his entire career, but there are some things about his legacy that are worth noting.
Here’s what I’ve got.
1) Wilkins was the BEST dunker of his era. Michael Jordan was second best. Call it a matter of preference, but I’ve always preferred Wilkins. Wilkins was exceptional because most high-flying dunkers (Jordan, Dr. J, Connie Hawkins, Kobe, etc.) tend to jump off of one foot and maximize their elevation by lifting their lead leg. Dominique usually jumped off of two feet and was still able to achieve amazing elevation – but his dunking power was unmatched. Wilkins could also glide off on one leg with the best dunkers in the league. His ability to do both types of dunks was unmatched.
2) Wilkins, like Patrick Ewing, had a stellar career, but neither played with an elite #2 scorer. Great players with championship rings DO NOT DO IT ALONE. Jordan had Pippen. David Robinson had Tim Duncan. Oscar Robertson had Kareem. Kareem had Magic Johnson. Magic Johnson had James Worthy. Isiah had Joe Dumars. Larry Bird had Kevin McHale. And so it goes. Wilkins never played with a complementary player of this stature.
3) Wilkins (and Barkley), unlike Jordan, had his best years at the height of the Celtics dominance of the Eastern Conference. In ‘Nique’s epic battle with Bird, he scored points over Bird and Parish and McHale, but it wasn’t enough for the Hawks to pull out the series. The Pistons also emerged as a dominant team during Wilkins’ prime years. The Hawks were never able to reach the NBA Finals because they lacked the offensive firepower to displace the Pistons and Celtics.
4) ‘Nique shot the ball too much. This label tends to follow players who are the single elite scorer for a franchise. You have to take all the good shots – and most of the bad shots. You shoot early in the shot clock to take advantage of the defense – and you shoot late in the shot clock to bail out your teammates when the offense breaks down. Tracy McGrady knows all about it. So does Kobe. When the media and fans adore you, they want you to shoot more: LeBron. When they don’t, it’s time for you to pass and involve your teammates. It’s a fine line – especially since these folks are not management…and only management can get you the help you need on the court.
5) Dominique Wilkin’s spot on Dream Team I went to Chris Mullin. I like Chris Mullin. He’s done plenty for the game. He’s had a tough life…he’s a New Yawkah (from Brooklyn, eh fugeddaboutit). But…he shouldn’t have been on that team ahead of Dominique Wilkins.
6) Dominique got his shots, didn’t he? He finished in the top five in shots attempted eight times in his career. That’s carry the load.
7) His induction speech was a joy. I was really pleased to hear his kinds words to his nephew who is playing in the league now. Interestingly, he ended his speech with a poem about the value of persistence that he learned from a coach years ago.
Congrats to the Human Highlight Film.