Jacques Dominique Wilkins was one of the best dunkers in NBA history.
Born in Sorbonne—the Latin Quarter District of Paris, France,–on January 12, 1960, while his father was stationed there serving in the U.S. Air Force, Wilkins lived in a total of ten cities in three different countries by the time he was 15. The family settled in Washington, North Carolina, where Dominique ran track and played basketball at Washington High School. Wilkins led the Pam Pack basketball team to a four year record of 76-2 and back-to-back state 3A titles in 1978 and 1979 while being named team MVP in his junior and senior seasons. He appeared in the “Faces in the Crowd” section of Sports Illustrated magazine after a 48 point, 27 rebound performance in which he also had nine dunks and eight blocked shots. Wilkins played in the McDonald’s, Capital Classic, Kentucky Derby Festival Classic and Dapper Dan Classic All-Star games following his senior season and declined a scholarship offer from coach Dean Smith and the University of North Carolina, choosing to attend the University of Georgia.
As a true freshman, Wilkins started at forward for the Bulldogs and made the All-SEC team. The following year, he was again named All-SEC as well as Southeastern Conference Player of the Year while leading Georgia to a berth in the National Invitation Tournament. In 1982, the 6’8”, 225 pound junior was named to his third consecutive All-SEC team, led the Bulldogs back to the NIT and was named first team All-America. Wilkins declared for the NBA draft following his junior season, leaving UGA as the school’s all-time leading scorer—averaging 21.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. On June 29, 1982, the Utah Jazz selected Dominique Wilkins with the third overall selection in the NBA Draft, behind North Carolina’s James Worthy and Terry Cummings of DePaul. Wilkins did not want to play for Utah and the team was financially strapped, so Wilkins was traded to the Atlanta Hawks just weeks before the start of the 1982 season in exchange for John Drew, Freeman Williams and cash. The trade is now considered one of the most lopsided in NBA history, as Drew and Williams would play a combined four seasons in Utah while Wilkins retired as the seventh leading scorer of all-time.
In 1983, “Nique” played in all 82 games, averaged over 17 points per contest, was named to the NBA All-Rookie team and led Atlanta to the playoffs. The following year, he averaged 21.6 points per game—the first of 12 straight seasons in which he would average 20 or more points a game. In 1984-85, he won the Slam-Dunk contest at the NBA All-Star Game, prompting his “Dr. Dunkenstein” nickname. Wilkins made his first All-Star team in 1985-86 and also led the league in scoring with a 30.3 points per game. It was the first of four consecutive seasons that the Hawks would win 50 or more games but not advance past the conference semi-finals in the postseason. Wilkins won his second and final Slam-Dunk title in 1990 but ruptured his Achilles tendon midway through the 1991-92 season. He returned to win Comeback Player of the Year the following season before being dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers in February of 1994 and then to Boston that July. Wikins played in Greece in 1995-96, Italy in 1997-98 and finished his career with the Orlando Magic before retiring in 1999.
“The Human Highlight Film” is the greatest player in Hawks history. He played in 1,074 NBA games and scored 26,668 points—one of only 12 players in league history to surpass 25,000. Wilkins patterned himself after the great Julius Erving, both on and off the court and, despite the epic battles he had with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, considers Bernard King the toughest player he ever guarded in his 15 NBA seasons. A nine-time NBA All-Star, Dominique Wilkins is the only player to have his basketball number retired by the University of Georgia and the Atlanta Hawks retired his # 21 in 2001. “Nique” was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Hawks unveiled a statue of Wilkins that sits in front of Philips Arena in Atlanta.
On this date in 1986, Dominique Wilkins scored 57 points to lead the Atlanta Hawks over the Chicago Bulls, 123-95, at the Omni.