Perhaps no man has been more central to the Atlanta Hawks in the last 40 years than Dominique Wilkins, the high-flying forward who spent the first 12 seasons of his 15-year NBA career in Atlanta before becoming the Hawks’ Vice President of Basketball in 2004. Two years later, Wilkins was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and began broadcasting games on TV for the team the following season. The Human Highlight Film finished his career with 26,668 points (13 all-time), nine All-Star appearances, seven All-NBA selections, and a scoring title – not to mention two wins in the Slam Dunk Contest. He defined an era of Hawks basketball and has witnessed subsequent epochs as closely as anyone.
Wilkins celebrated his 60 birthday on January 12 and during Atlanta’s win over the Suns on Tuesday, the Hawks celebrated the milestone with a video and cake presentation during a timeout.
Before the game, Wilkins took a moment to chat with Sports Illustrated about his career, the trajectory of this year’s Hawks team, and more.
The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
When you look back at the totality of your 37 years in or around the NBA, what stands out the most to you?
Being able to play a game that I absolutely adore with some of the greatest players to ever play this game in my era, that’s priceless. You can’t put a price tag on that. It’s just an amazing emotional feeling that you have when you can come out every night and play against a legendary guy.
You’ve seen and been a part of some great Hawks teams over the years. Five to eight years down the line, where do you see this team stacking up?
The thing is, you’ve gotta create your own legacy. So you’re trying to create a brand that people would embrace, that would be fun for them to come to see. And every young team goes through this. We’re no different than anybody else. It takes time, but I know in time that we’re gonna get there. I really believe that.
What kind of struggles did you experience in your first few years in the league?
Well I was very fortunate because I played with some serious veterans. I was really the only rookie on that team. So I played with Dan Roundfield, Tree Rollins, Eddie Johnson. I had All-Star veterans who taught me the game early, so we won games early.
I think it is overlooked, but I think you’ve gotta have them.
As one of the greatest dunkers in NBA history, how would you evaluate Vince Carter’s dunking ability and his impact on the Hawks the last two years?
We were great at the art of dunking in our own right, in our own time. And he ranks in the top three or four, no question. It’s not even arguable. Vince Carter is great. Wonderful player, going to be a Hall-of-Famer in the next five years. What he’s done is nothing short of remarkable, so I’m happy to have him here with us.
How does Trae Young compare to some of the great Hawks you’ve seen over the years?
He has his own style. And that’s what I love about the game is that you can create your own style. And so I don’t look at his style and compare it to anybody else because he’s kind of unorthodox at that point guard position because he can score in many different ways, especially at his size. So he’s just a unique player.