If you aren’t a long-suffering Atlanta Hawks fan, you don’t fully understand what’s going on right now. If you’re a Bulls backer or a Lakers supporter, you’ve had plenty of weeks like this. But if you proudly rock a “Teague” jersey in public, you haven’t.
Your team has the longest current win streak in the NBA and is sitting on a 10-game cushion in the Eastern Conference? Your franchise’s best player, Dominique Wilkins, is being immortalized with a 13.5-foot granite sculpture at Philips Arena on Thursday? LeBron James and the Cavs are coming to town on Friday as underdogs? OK, where’s the Punk’d crew?
But that’s just it, Atlanta—this is no joke. This exciting week is very real. This season of Hawk ascension is even realer. How do we know for sure? Nique told us. Wilkins played during some really good times in the city. He’s broadcasted through some of the ugly ones. If anyone can separate the real from the really lucky, it’s the Hall of Famer. A few days ago, he opened up to us about the current squad’s improbable run to a No. 1 seed and his own immortality.
SLAM: I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this interview by getting your thoughts about Earl Lloyd. What did he mean to you?
Dominique Wilkins: He meant a lot to all of us. He was the first African American player in the NBA. I knew Earl very well. He was a super nice individual. It saddens us all. Earl Lloyd is what we are today as African American players. He really paved the way for what we are as players. We have no idea what he went through. We gotta be mindful and thankful of that. Young guys in this game need to go back and look at the history of this game. The league started before Dr. J and Spencer Haywood. You had guys who paved the way for them, and they [in turn] paved the way for us.
SLAM: On a more positive note, you’re in the midst of quite a big week. When I think about all the great players this game has seen, I can’t name many with statues.
DW: This will be the eighth statue. And to be among them, I cannot tell you how that makes me feel. To be immortalized that way is an amazing, amazing feeling.
SLAM: Does this complete Dominique Wilkins’ basketball journey?
DW: No question about it. It’s what a lot of young people strive to be. You strive to be something great. That’s why history, embracing the history, is so important for young players. It’s so important to give them goals and give them someone to look up to. You gotta embrace history.
SLAM: Beyond the 26,000-plus points, what is your proudest NBA accomplishment?
DW: You know what, I think it was me playing against the greatest to ever play. All the personal accolades are great, but playing against the greatest players to ever play this game—in one era! That will never be duplicated.
SLAM: Who were some of the teammates who influenced you the most?
DW: From an NBA standpoint, the guys who taught me a lot early on were Dan Roundfield, Tree Rollins and Lou Hudson. Even though I didn’t play with Lou Hudson—he was gone before I got into the League—he gave me a lot of positive information to help my game. Guys like Tree Rollins and Dan Roundfield embraced me as the leader of this team after my first couple of years [in the NBA]. We had some great leaders, some guys who weren’t afraid to tell me what I was doing wrong and things I needed to work on. You need that type of reinforcement to make you better as a player. Once I became a leader of the team, I had guys like Doc Rivers, Kevin Willis and Randy Wittman, who I think the world of. We cherished each other. We loved each other. We pulled for each other.
SLAM: What’s the toughest part about being a broadcaster?
DW: The traveling. Broadcasting is easy. I’m just talking about what I already know. The rigorous schedule and traveling to all these different cities around the country [is taxing]. It feels like you’re playing again.
SLAM: Speaking as someone who has a ringside seat with this team, does it bother you that they still aren’t getting the national magazine covers and ESPN-televised games?
DW: I’m proud of our guys. Our guys have basically shut everybody up. The people who think this is a fluke—they’re mistaken. This is no fluke. These guys can play. You hear this, “Well, they don’t have a superstar.” We do have stars: Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Al Horford. They’re stars in my opinion. You cannot win on this level without guys who aren’t stars. What’s the definition of your superstar? Guys who do high-wire acts and ohhh and ahhh the crowd? That doesn’t make you a superstar. It’s the efficiency and consistency within a player that makes him a star.
SLAM: Do you think the Hawks’ performance will have an effect around the League, where it’ll be less about building around big-name stars?
DW: You have to understand that this team has created its own identity. Everybody can’t do that. [Atlanta] has the right mixture of players that work together.
SLAM: Beyond the play on the floor, I’m also seeing some positive changes among Atlanta fans. What are your thoughts on the overall feel of the city these days?
DW: The city has rallied behind this team in lieu of the negative publicity (surrounding last summer’s Danny Ferry controversy) this team has gotten. Fans have rallied around these guys. They supported them and that’s all you can ask for. Sometimes bad things pull people together. Sometimes it takes bad stuff for great things to happen.