Hawks honour the Human Highlight Film

A 13-foot statue of Wilkins was unveiled at Philips Arena in Atlanta on Thursday. (Photo: John Bazemore/AP)

On Thursday, the Atlanta Hawks unveiled a statue of one of the greatest players in their franchise’s 69-year history, Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins. The celebrations continue tonight, when the Hawks will honour ‘Nique at halftime of a much-anticipated matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers—and, hey, why not immortalize a player who earned the nickname “The Human Highlight Film”?

There are many that will acknowledge Wilkins’ greatness while holding the fact that he never won a ring over his head. Let’s get this out of the way right now: True, he didn’t win a ring. But from 1982-1994, the years Wilkins toiled for the Hawks, there were some pretty good players in the league maintaining a stranglehold on the jewelry department. Do the names Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan mean anything to you?

Wilkins eventually left the Hawks, going on to play (briefly) with the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and Orlando Magic, but he never claimed the ultimate prize. And he’s not alone in that. The line of Hall of Fame players from that era who retired ringless includes Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton and Karl Malone—heady company.

Wilkins will forever be remembered for the gravity-defying highlight reel dunks with which he embarrassed many an opponent. For those of you too young to have caught them the first time around, take a look at ‘Nique’s top-10 throw downs, according to Shaquille O’Neal (who turns 50 today).

Lest you get the impression that all Wilkins did was electrify the crowd and throw down jams, it’s worth noting that he scored in many ways. Wilkins sits 12th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Rest assured, you don’t rack up 26,668 points on breathtaking dunks alone.

“I didn’t score all those points on dunks,” Wilkins told me during a recent chat in Atlanta. “I worked on my game and every summer came back with something to help me when they took away something I liked to do.”

Yes he’s best known for his offence, but Wilkins had a pretty well rounded game. If you look at the list of Hawks’ all-time franchise leaders, you may raise an eyebrow or two at Wilkins’ ranking in certain statistical categories. Of course, he leads the franchise in scoring. But he also sits second in offensive rebounding, fourth on the defensive glass and sixth in shot blocking. Before he was felled by an Achilles injury in the 1991-92 season, Wilkins also showed tremendous durability, playing in all but 18 games between 1982-1991 (his 882 games played for the Hawks is also a franchise record).

It’s fitting that after leaving the Hawks and playing in Europe for a while, Wilkins is back with the franchise he gave his heart and soul to, serving as the team’s vice-president. Also fitting is the Hawks choice to honour ‘Nique during this unexpectedly sweet season in ATL.

Still no rings, but now he’s got a statue.

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