Few players in the history of basketball married grace and power like Jacques Dominique Wilkins.
Nicknamed the "Human Highlight Film," Wilkins wowed crowds not only with his thunderous trademark windmills, but his relentless offensive attack and artistry. His performances in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest are the stuff of legend, and he boxed with the likes of Michael Jordan and Larry Bird in some epic postseason battles.
One of the top scorers of the 80s, Wilkins averaged 20 or more points per game for 11 consecutive seasons. And to this day, he remains the most celebrated player in Atlanta Hawks history; holding the franchise's all-time marks for points and steals.
Partnering with NFT Genius and Ballerz to benefit KultureCity, the nation's leading nonprofit on sensory accessibility and acceptance for individuals with invisible disabilities; we sat down with the Hall of Famer to discuss his charity auction with the two brands featuring his one-of-one Ballerz PFP NFT, what it felt like to be named to the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team, how to fix the dunk contest and much, much more.
The Spun: It goes without saying that you were one of the most special dunkers in NBA history. Do you remember the first time you ever dunked a basketball?
Dominique Wilkins: The first time I ever dunked was when I was in the eighth grade. And it was by accident, I think [smiles]. You know, I was playing in a summer league basketball game and I came down, I went up for a layup, and I dunked it. People went crazy and I’m going down the other end and the referee’s telling me to “Come back! Come back!” I didn’t understand what he was telling me. He said, “You got fouled! You’ve gotta shoot a free throw!” [laughs].
So, that was the first time.
The Spun: Many still consider your battle with MJ in 1988 to be the greatest slam dunk contest ever. Over the years, the contest seems to have lost a bit of its luster. Why do you think that is? What do you think needs to change to get it back to its rightful place at the top of All-Star Weekend?
DW: Michael and I, I think- we had two great players who wanted to know who was the best. That’s plain and simple. We wanted to know who the best was, so we got up there and we matched each other’s will to win. … The fact that people are still talking about that dunk contest 30-something years later… that tells you that it’s the greatest dunk contest ever.
Now, there’s been other great dunk contests, no question. Vince Carter… outstanding some of the stuff he did. Amazing. Zach LaVine and [Aaron] Gordon. I mean, that dunk contest was a show. Since our dunk contest, those two dunk contests are my two favorite. LaVine and Gordon, and also Vince Carter. It was outstanding man. I was really proud of how those guys represented the dunk contest.
But, to answer your question what they can do different? I have no idea [smiles]. We’ve talked about every single thing. But, you’ve gotta have superstar power in that dunk contest. You’ve gotta have those great athletes who are high flyers.
Like, look at Ja Morant. You think he couldn’t win? [chuckles]. I mean, it's so many of them guys like that in the league, who can have a chance to win.
The Spun: Looking back at your career, you were one of the first real high flyers that also married skill level, footwork and shooting touch. Who were some of the players you patterned your game after coming up?
DW: You know what… what I did at a very early age in my career, is I took one player and took one thing he did great and I practiced it over, and over and over again for a whole summer until it became mine. Like Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, his spin move, I practiced that over, and over and over again until it became my spin move. Bob Love and all the great jump shooters- where they got their shots, how they released they shots… I worked on it. Went away and worked on it for a whole summer. Came back- I was a nightmare in the midrange. Here, people talking about the midrange, that’s what we did. I mean, midrange is where I scored most of my points. In that midrange area. I could shoot the three and all that but that’s not till later. I didn’t care about the three.
My whole objective was to attack you, to get early fouls on you. Because if I could get two early fouls on you, now I create an advantage for myself. Now, you don’t play me as hard. So now, I can play you like a puppet. I can do anything I want against you. Because, I never saw single coverage. It was double teams and it was a time where you had to think the game, as well as play the game. Because you had an opponent on the other side of you who was just as good a lot of times. So, you had to create advantages.
The Spun: You teamed up with NFT Genius to auction off a one-of-one piece of digital Ballerz art to benefit KultureCity. Could you tell us a bit about your connection to the cause?
DW: My connection with the cause is through Julian Maha who is the founder. He and his wife Michelle founded KultureCity and we met through social media. And we just became very close friends and now I’m the chairman of the board. But, the relationship that we have, it’s so important because we’re continuing to raise awareness for people who are dealing with disabilities. The problem is much bigger than people even know.
So we’ve gotta find a way to make sure we keep these people who are dealing with these special needs in mind; and also help them have different options to help themselves. Different websites, different places they can go on their own where, if they’re having episodes, they can have the chance to talk to a healthcare professional and get balanced out and re-enter into society where they’re comfortable. So these are the things that we’ve created across the country in every NBA arena, and baseball, hockey and places like that where people have episodes. But, you know, back years ago, they didn’t have a place to go to deal with that problem.
Now, they do.
The Spun: Not too long after your playing days in Atlanta, there were some lean years and it took a while before the city found another star that it could really rally around. Trae Young is that guy for the Hawks now. What, in your mind, makes him so special?
DW: First of all, he got unbelievable heart. You know, toughness, inner toughness… he has no fear. He’ll compete against anybody. But, what he brings is a special talent. Among his scoring, and shooting the ball from deep, getting to the basket… the thing that really impresses me the most about him is his court vision. How he’s able to find guys in traffic. Not a lot of guys can do that. But, he’s one of the few who can make it look so easy. And that opens up the other parts of his game. Now, he can go into his bag of tricks; shoot his threes, get in the lane, wreak havoc on your defense, shoot the floater- which he probably has one of the best floaters, if not, the best floater in the game.
The Spun: After being left off the NBA’s top 50 list back in 1996, what were the emotions when your name was revealed on the league’s 75th Anniversary Team?
DW: I was pissed off [laughs]. Because at the time that I got left off I was the seventh all-time leading scorer in history. … And, a guy who, you know, been to the playoffs more than eight times in my career... just multiple things that I did. I didn’t do it with another superstar, and we still won a lot of games. So, for me, I was taken back by it. But sometimes, I look at it like God takes things from you to give you something better later. And 25 years later, the 75th anniversary came out, and that was even better [smiles].
The Spun: Can you give us The Human Highlight Film’s Mt. Rushmore of dunkers?
DW: [Excluding myself] of course Michael, Dr. J... who is the grandaddy of us all. I’ve always said that. Vince Carter and… aw man, I think other guys like… look at LaVine and Gordon. You’ve gotta have them guys up at the top there as well. But, I’m gonna tell you another guy that nobody ever talks about: David Thompson. David Thompson, people don’t know how good he was. One of the greatest athletes I’ve ever seen in my life.
The Ballerz charity auction, in association with Dapper Labs, also includes opportunities to meet the nine-time All-Star himself, signed memorabilia and rare packs of NBA Top Shot, UFC Strike and NFL All Day. The auction can be found at: https://www.ballerzxdominique.com/
Dominique Wilkins has served as the Hawks Vice President of Basketball and Special Advisor to the CEO since 2004.
An 18,500-pound statue sits outside State Farm Arena in his honor.
You can read more of our interviews with athletes and media stars here.