How Good Really Was Dominique Wilkins?

“The Human Highlight Film.”

Eventually, Dominique Wilkins earned that nickname for his incredible talent in the game of basketball. But to truly look at this the right way, one must first have to zoom into a high school basketball player in Washington, North Carolina back in the late seventies.

Wilkins had moved from Paris, Dallas, and Baltimore before he ended up in North Carolina — where he played basketball for Washington High School. It was there that Wilkins led his team to consecutive 3-A State titles, and was named MVP in both of them. Perhaps the moment that launched Dominique Wilkins’ “Human Highlight Film” career in high school was his incredible performance against a higher classification school — where he dropped 48 points, 27 rebounds, 9 dunks, and 8 blocks. Even today, that kind of game is unheard of. It was because of his unique playing style that he drew a lot of excitement from basketball fans around the United States, which carried on to his time in college.

In 1979, Dominique Wilkins joined the University of Georgia and continued to culminate excitement from more fans. In 1981, Wilkins was declared the SEC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year. But little did everyone know, his greatest years were yet to come.

Dominique Wilkins was drafted as the third overall pick, behind James Worthy and Terry Cummings, in the 1982 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz. Wilkins made it clear that he wasn’t willing to play in Utah — add that with the Jazz’s cash flow problems back then, and there was a major desperation to get him out of Utah. The Atlanta Hawks approached the Jazz with a deal that sent John Drew, Freeman Williams, and $1 million in cash for Wilkins. Utah conceded and agreed to the trade. Unfortunately for the Jazz, many would later on call this one of the most lopsided sports trades ever, especially because Drew and Williams would only play a combined four seasons with the team.

For ten consecutive seasons, Dominique Wilkins averaged more than 25 points a game, and in the 1985-1986 season, he was awarded the NBA Scoring Title for averaging 30.3 points a game. The Hawks’ 80s success of having winning seasons can be pinpointed to Wilkins’ incredible scoring ability. And in the 1990-1991 NBA season, when his team needed him to be a better-rounded player, he averaged nine rebounds and three assists a game.

The nickname “Human Highlight Film” came from Wilkins’ incredible and powerful windmill dunks that contributed to him taking home the Slam Dunk Contest trophies in 1985 and 1990. But possibly even more notable than his dunk contest wins was his rivalry with Michael Jordan.

Because of Michael Jordan’s incredible dominance in the 90s, the Wilkins-dominated 80s kind-of became a blur in basketball history. The reason why Wilkins didn’t win a championship because of the power of the Celtics, Pistons, and Bulls in the Eastern Conference. Now give him a Kevin McHale, Isaiah Thomas, or Scottie Pippen in the 80s, and Dominique Wilkins might have won multiple championships. But unfortunately for Atlanta and Wilkins, that didn’t happen.

Dominique Wilkins would later play for the Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics, Panathinaikos, San Antonio Spurs, Fortitudo Bologna, and the Orlando Magic. The end of his career was very wide-spread, but that often happens to players when they get older, so in my book, it doesn’t count against his effectiveness.

Dominique Wilkins was a force to be reckoned with that pretty-much single-handedly led the Hawks to winning seasons. His dominance in the 80s is often forgotten or brushed over, but in all reality, Wilkins might have just as much influence on the game of basketball as anyone during his time — essentially, he was a Michael Jordan that never won a ring. And in my opinion, he deserves incredible recognition for his continued fortitude of pushing through his lack of supporting-cast to single-handedly carry his teams to dubs, day-in and day-out.