Dominique Wilkins is a Hall of Fame inductee and still holds the mantle of the best player in Atlanta Hawks franchise history, but for 25 years, he felt like something was missing. Wilkins was left off of the NBA at 50 team in 1997, and is considered one of the biggest snubs from that list.
This year’s NBA 75th Anniversary Team righted that wrong as he earned one of the 76 spots on the league’s updated list of the greatest players to grace the NBA hardwood. It’s an honor Wilkins doesn’t take lightly, as he soaked in the full experience of being in that room at All-Star in Cleveland with the league’s all-time greats.
Last week, we got a chance to speak with Wilkins about that experience, the MVP race, celebrating regular season accomplishments, and the Hawks falling short of expectations as he was promoting an auction benefitting KultureCity, a non-profit focused on accessibility for autism and other invisible disabilities, where they partnered with Ballerz and NFT Genius to auction off a piece of digital art as well as some signed Wilkins memorabilia.
It was a big year for you getting named to the 75th anniversary team and I know you’ve spoken on that at the time, but getting to go to Cleveland and being at All-Star with those guys, what did that mean to you? And what was that experience like for you?
I can tell you it was surreal emotions and feelings. I still haven’t been able to grasp it yet because of the importance of that honor. And I can tell you everybody in that room felt the same way even though you know, you’re great players and all that, but when you’re in a room where you anointed as royalty, the greatest to ever do this, man. It was an emotional thing. I had the chance to know myself, LeBron, Carmelo, Dr. J., and guys like Magic, all of us sitting in this room that’s talking about man, this is unbelievable. And you would think guys are like, “Yeah, yeah, I know I’m supposed to be here,” but it wasn’t like that. It was like, nobody could believe that we were all in this room together, being anointed as the greatest players to ever play. So I’m still emotional about it, even to this very day, but man that was an honor worth waiting for.
How cool was it that those guys, the current players that were able to be in that room, and it seems like there’s that respect that you get across generations when you’re at that level? And what is it like to see that and to be able to see guys that you looked up to who were in that room and guys that were looking up to you?
You know, the respect we gave to guys before us, we’ve always given those guys respect, but the respect was even at a different level that night. And I gotta tell you, the young guys, the current players in this league today who got selected, they were the same. They gave utmost respect to us and appreciation, and we all realized at that moment that we are one of the smallest, big families in the world. And it was a level of respect, I cannot tell you how good it felt, you know, coming from everybody. And so that’s something that you can share with your kids for a lifetime. And no one can ever take that from you.
Right now a big discussion point is Nikola Jokic winning the MVP and a lot of people were talking about, oh, should we tie MVP to what people were doing in the postseason because he got knocked down in the first round, that sort of thing. And I want your perspective on this because I think we’ve shifted away a little bit — maybe too far — to everything has to be about the playoffs. How do you think we should talk about regular season greatness because it’s such a grind, and when we, I think, we need to celebrate that as well?
Well, you know, the MVP was very hard to, in my opinion, to pick this year. I think the three top guys all deserving of being an MVP — Joel Embiid definitely deserving of being an MVP and Giannis. Their body of work of what they did during the regular season, you know, that’s what really dictated where you ultimately end up. I mean, the playoffs, I don’t think what you did in the playoffs should really diminish what you did in the regular season. Because you look at what Jokic and Embiid have done in the playoffs, they’ve been incredible. So it I don’t think it really was predicated on what you do in the playoffs and never has been, right?
So that’s the way it is and a lot of times it’s hard for people to accept, but it was a very hard honor to pick this year. It really was, and I know it was hard for [voters]. But you know, are all those guys deserving of that? Absolutely. Now, I probably would have picked Embiid as well, because of what he did in a regular season when he was unconscious and the way he played, but all three of those big guys man I mean, like you flip a coin. That was a tough one this year.
I do want to talk about your work with with KultureCity. First off how did that come about? And how did you come to this idea for this NFT auction?
Well, you know what, Julian Maha and I, who was the founder of KultureCity, he and his wife Michelle, I met him on Twitter and we had conversations and we kind of hit it off and we talked about special needs in his family and my family, and we thought it was a great fit that we team up together. And the last five years it’s been great, man. I can tell you the relationship has been absolutely wonderful because I’ve learned more, myself, even though I’ve been involved with special needs with my daughter for quite some time. I learned so much by being attached to KultureCity, and that’s why I’m the chairman of board now and helping us continue to build awareness and a lot of participation in helping to do what we do.
What do you want people to know about accessibility and the things that we can do to make life easier on everybody and the things that it takes to do that?
Well, first of all, you want people not to ignore the issues and the problems that people are dealing with with special needs. It’s been around since the beginning of time. It’s been around, but people have ignored it. They have looked at people dealing with special needs or autism and hidden disabilities and invisible disabilities as like it’s a second thought. It’s like nothing that really important until something happens that is out of that person’s control because no one has given attention to that person to help them deal with their issues. So we want to make sure that no one gets left behind, that special needs get a serious, long, healthy look and how we can come together to raise money to continue to raise the awareness, to put facilities in place to help people help themselves .
Absolutely. I do want to talk a little Hawks with you. What did you see from the team this year that was maybe a little different than last year that didn’t come all together?
Well, I think we underachieved for sure, no question about that. But a lot of things came into play with that. First of all, not enough consistency in the rotation as far as our line up because so many people without due to COVID or injury or those things but I thought we got a little comfortable at times. And then at the end the year we started to pick it up and turn it on where we say hey, if we’re gonna make the playoffs, man, it starts now. And so even though we struggled for the most part throughout the season, we still got in the playoffs and played against a tough Miami team. And you know, and you look at Philly, they’re seeing that as well. It’s not like Miami is a fluke, they’re good team. So, again, you know, they did what they were supposed to do as the No. 1 seed, you know, but at the same time, I do think we underachieved.
From Trae’s perspective — the attention that he got in that Miami series from them defensively and obviously what they were able to do to slow him down, what do you hope to see from him coming in next year? And what do you think he can learn and take away from that experience? Because it’s the first time that some team has done that and really taken him away.
Well, you know what, I tell people all the time, how do you beat the double team? You go before it gets there. And what I mean by that is you either make a quick move and get to the basketball or you pass it to the next guy to set them up. Because when you set those other guys out to be successful, and they start making shots, for example, your game becomes easy because now the defense got to make a decision on how you guard the other guys. So you can’t let that guy continue to sit over and knock down shots, you got to make an adjustment. So now later in the game, it becomes Trae’s time. And so that’s things he’s learning, but you know, if you look at it from a defensive standpoint, Miami threw a lot of different looks and they’re one of the better, if not the best defensive team in the league. So they got guys that just for every position who can guide out front enough to get help, and that’s what happened.