The Starting Five Dominique Wilkins Interview: ‘Nique Was More Than Just a Highlight

Put you in a poster without being in it?

Imagine something for me. Your team is up by one with say 19 seconds left. The opposing team has the ball but aren’t known as a great shooting team.  All you have to do is secure the rebound and the game is in the bag. You want this game so bad that in your mind, you go over everything it takes to secure a rebound. Feet spread, low base…box your man out…

Shot goes up…you put yourself in a prime position to get the rebound no matter what side it comes off. Yes!!  You think to yourself. We got this…

All of the sudden you see this flash wearing 21 go up…up and over you. In one fell swoop, this 21 guy grabs the ball with one hand and bangs the rock back…at the buzzer…


You lose.

Dominique was that dude. He was the gifted athlete personified. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do on the floor and his type of athleticism transcends sports and eras. He was a winner. He…it seemed…invented the tip dunk. He perfected it. He had some of the greatest individual match ups in playoff history and on May 22, 1988 he and Larry Bird went at it. I’ll let him speak on it later in the interview.


Michael Tillery: Nique…I wrote…or tried to write I should say…a definitive piece on Doc called The Third Evolution to connect the dots…especially since that very much appreciated notion from generations past doesn’t seem like a priority these days. When I talked to Doc, he added you and Vince Carter to the mix. There’s this picture I found on the Web of you, Julius, Mike, Kobe…

Dominique Wilkins: And Vince…

MT: And Vince…where was that?

‘Nique: That was at All Star Weekend. We were ambassadors of the Slam Dunk contest. They wanted the five guys who’ve won…together. The signature guys. That’s a helluva picture. I actually have that at home.

MT: That’s a helluva picture. It was perfect because when I spoke with Doc, he said the names and I couldn’t believe I actually found a picture with all the names.

Let’s look back on your time as a NBA player. I’m sure folks in Atlanta saw you as their Doc. Fans of the league saw you as that guy. Why do you think you didn’t get the…It seems like that you were…I don’t want to make this negative…It just doesn’t seem like you received your propers and it always confused and made me angry even though Doc was my dude.

‘Nique: (he chuckles) That was an understatement. You know what? My peers know what I brought and done in this league. For whatever reason…maybe it was because it was Atlanta…the market…I don’t know. Look at…when I played.

I never had another great player to play with and we still won 49…50 games 6, 7, 8 years in a row.

Jamal Crawford, whose interview will be posted later this week, comes over and chimes inIt was a moment of mutual respect and admiration. Glad I was there to witness it:

Jamal Crawford: 26,000 points? You would never know it. I was talking about you to someone the other night. The first thing they said was they never knew how much you accomplished.

‘Nique: (he’s talking to both of us) You know why? It’s what Mike and I were just talking about. People see two time slam dunk champion…

What they don’t realize is I did that for fun. That wasn’t who I was. I used dunking as a tool of intimidation.

It’s hard to get 26,000 points on dunks.

That’s real hard to do. If you look at my career…back in my era…they did not let you walk down the lane and dunk. I averaged 2 dunks a night.

I put in 54 one night and didn’t have a dunk.

I had a lot of stuff I used. I had an in between…a mid-range. I could go into the post. I could dribble. I could shoot the three and I went to the line 10 times a game. Dunking was used to back the big fella up.

Jamal Crawford: I just wanted to tell you that and hope that people understand how great a player you were.

‘Nique: Appreciate that Doc.

MT: Of course you are going to be diplomatic here and I truly understand, but who did you consider your greatest teammates?

‘Nique: To be honest, I had a lot of great teammates. Guys I loved…Randy Whittman, Doc Rivers, Spud Webb, Kevin Willis, Dan Roundfield and Tree Rollins are the six guys I can name right now. Those six guys are like brothers to me.

MT: Obviously a player of your caliber would get up for the big games, the Doc games, the Lakers games, the Boston games…could you describe specifically those Boston match ups because being a Sixers fan, I rooted for you as if I was from Atlanta against the C’s.

It appears as if those math ups are what the kids are gonna remember you by because that Game 7 is talked about so much.

‘Nique: I’ll say this, if you didn’t get up to play in those games, you got embarrassed. Plain and simple. You got embarrassed because you played against the greatest players in the history of the game…from those teams. If you didn’t bring your A-game, you got embarrassed. Period. Guys would go for 40 or 50. The teams I played against that were weak teams I had to make sure I put up 30 or 40  and put them away early. That was just my attitude. Most great players…especially during that era…will tell you the same thing.

MT: Interesting, my next question was related to that answer. The mind of a scorer. What elevated such an exceptional talent inside of a game where you know you were not going to be stopped?

‘Nique: Well…for me…I have a feeling before a game. My hands are sweating, my palms are sweating and the basket looks big. Those are the nights I know I’m gonna get 30 plus. It’s just a feeling. The adrenaline you have and once you hit those first two or three shots?

Game on. No one guy is gonna stop you.

That was my feeling. I remember in that game against Boston in the playoffs, I knew I was gonna have a big night. How big I didn’t know because I’m playing against one of the greatest small forwards on the other end in Larry Bird.

Then you had Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish…they are bringing their A-games too. It came down to who was gonna get who in the last minute.

MT: The way we see it in my era is the tip dunk was your signature. It seemed like what Jimmy Lynam calls it here…falling from the roof…it looked as if your entire head was above the rim in some instances…

‘Nique: That’s something I used to my advantage too because a lot of times when I took a jump shot the defense would turn their heads…assuming I was just gonna run back down the other end of the court.

Sometimes I would shoot a shot…or a bad shot…just to get a better one.

I knew how it was gonna hit off once I took a shot so once it hit, I knew what spot to run to catch it. I know it’s weird, but once you took a shot, you knew how it was gonna hit. When you know it’s off, that’s when you make your move because you are already in front of the defense or up in the air creating your own shot.

MT:When did you incorporate that skill into your game. Was there a certain period in your life where you saw it could be a great weapon?

‘Nique: College…actually I was doing it in high school…but more often in college. Then in the NBA I took it to another level.

MT: When you laced ’em up, who was that guy you wanted to see defending you the most?

‘Nique: I like to go up against the great players. The great players like Bird, Bernard King, James Worthy, Adrian Dantley, Alex English, Marques Johnson…the great players. That’s who I really laced ’em up against because if I didn’t? Again, you got embarrassed.

MT: What do you see in Josh Smith, because of his size and athleticism, there might be loose comparisons. Is there anything in him that is like you?

‘Nique: He has a lot of the athletic ability that I had. He’s definitely an athlete. What Josh needs to work on…and as you can see he’s getting better and better…is to become a better basketball player as well as an athlete.

MT: The game now. What could you do in this league? What does this league need?

‘Nique: (face lights up) I don’t even know man.

You couldn’t touch me? No hand checking?

I don’t know. That’s a hard question to answer.

MT: What would do? Jump on the damn rim and fall through it spinning or some…

‘Nique: Oh yeah…but not just dunking. Using your offensive tools. Our whole thing was getting to the basket.

Shooting that mid-range shot that all of us did.

The difference is we did that when you could hand check and elbow. I just couldn’t imagine…if you couldn’t touch me.

Ask Kobe and LeBron…they’ll tell ya. Wade…Carmelo. You can’t stop those guys one on one. It’s impossible.

You can slow them down a little bit if you could put your hand on them but with these rules? You have no chance.

MT: Whenever I speak with Kobe, he wishes the league were more physical. He needs that challenge.

‘Nique: You know why? He’s got that old school mentality. He loves that challenge.  He loves to compete. He’s a monster. He is a monster. LeBron is slowly but surely becoming that same type of athlete with his attitude. So is Wade…Carmelo. Them guys man…they bring it.

MT: Is there anyone in the league that compares to your size and athleticism?

‘Nique: If you look at LeBron…a guy who is 6’8″…same size. Carmelo…a big physical 3. You can’t stop those guys. If you don’t have another guy in the league that matches his type of athletic ability as well as basketball know how? Carmelo and LeBron give each other a boost. They go at each other head up. Two great scorers. That’s what it’s about.

MT: When you look back on your career are you satisfied?

‘Nique: If I had everything to do over I’d do the same thing.

Just because you don’t win a championship doesn’t diminish if you were a great player or not.

I was as great as any player who could play.

I consider myself as one of the greats because I’ve never had another great player and we still won games. We didn’t win a championship but we still won. In the East at that time had some of the greatest teams in history.

I don’t complain…I don’t make excuses.

It was what it was, it is what it is.

I wouldn’t trade it for nothing in the world.

Why did these cats jump…or try to jump with ‘Nique?

MT: Where would you put yourself in the top 20?

‘Nique: I tell you what…Danny Ainge, Bird and Magic said it best when they said:

“Dominique isn’t in the top 50, he’s in the top 25.”

That’s what those guys said. I don’t have to really say where I belong. Everybody knows. They know. I think they know more now that my career is over because of what I brought to the table.

MT: What would you want to tell this generation who the hell Dominique Wilkins was?

‘Nique: I was a guy that brought it every…single…night. I didn’t take nights off. I didn’t make excuses.

I believe you lead by example.

No matter what the outcome is, if you can accept and master that people will respect you. My teammates respected me because I looked at everybody as equals and I did the best I could to uplift them into winning games.

It’s funny…and you are talking about one of the greatest of all time…at the time I retired, I was 7th all time in scoring. I was one of the greatest to ever play at that time.

To not be recognized as one of the top 50…it still hurts and to this day is mind boggling. Larry Bird even said it: “Come on, you gotta be joking. Dominique is not on there? Is it really a real team without Dominique and Bob McAdoo (interview next week) as two of the 50 Greatest?”

I mean…come on (he shakes his head in disbelief).What else did I have to do?

MT: I’m not gonna lie. As a kid…going to the Spectrum…all we heard about was the Omni…the Omni (when the Hawks were in town). So you represented a lot more than what is mentioned.

‘Nique: You know what the funny thing is that the scouting reports all said if you stopped me you beat the Hawks. It was a compliment really because defenses were set up to try and stop you night in and night out.

MT: Doc was who he was and when you think most feared players growing up I thought of you and Bernard King.

‘Nique: Funny you should say that…I’m gonna give you an example: Bernard King never talked to me…never shook my hand when we played against New York (‘Nique chuckles). Everyone knew this because he was just so focused… he was a monster. I brought him to a game a couple of years ago and I said there is something I always wanted to ask you…I wanted to invite you to a game because there’s something I’ve always wanted to ask you…

I never feared anybody.

You never shook my hand. You never looked at me. It was like you were looking through me. I told him…

You were the only guy who ever scared me.

Benard said..

“You know what, I had to be that way because you scared the hell out of me too.”

I was cool then and thought yeah, we can now sit down and watch the game. That was a helluva compliment.

MT: So was this interview brotha. Thanks.

‘Nique: You got it.

20 Responses to “The Starting Five Dominique Wilkins Interview: ‘Nique Was More Than Just a Highlight”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Tillery. Michael Tillery said: The Starting Five Dominique Wilkins Interview: 'Nique Was More Than Just A Highlight up on TSF […]

  2. Rashad says:

    Good stuff my man. Nique and Worthy were my two favorite players growing up

  3. KevDog says:

    One of the most under-rated players in league history. His lack of multiple rings was solely due to the luck of who his team mates were. I loved Worthy, but ‘Nique ws simply better.

  4. mcbias says:

    Love the interview, Michael! The part about Bernard King is especially entertaining

  5. Eric says:

    AWESOME. Great interview. Best I’ve read with Nique in a long, long time.

  6. Didn’t really get to see Nique much growing up. All I’ve seen is the highlights, game clips and I’ve been blessed to hear stories about him from former players. Great player, even better person.

  7. MODI says:

    great to hear from Nique! It,s true that he would dominate even more today without the hand checking. no question about it. In fact all of the great forwards of the 1980s would. That was the greatest era of small forwards because it was the last crop that learned the game before the 3 point line and you had to hone the midrange game which is virtually nonexistent today once you get past Melo and a couple of others.

    And Nique has frequently been on record telling the truth about Bernard King and how unstoppable he was. I’ve always appreciated that about him. I mean back then they all talked about Bernard that way, but today Nique is the most vocal as media has reduced the early 80’s to Magic vs Bird

    Nice interview Miz

  8. Mizzo says:

    You got it Modi. Making some inroads this year doing these pre-game. Can’t stop, won’t stop.

  9. […] the Doc piece I spoke to you about earlier was to add to the current perspective. Also the reason I spoke to Dominique and I thank you for interjecting. I’m trying to tie history together as best as […]

  10. Mark Hauser says:

    Of all the players that did not make the 50 Greatest Players of All Time list in 1997, Wilkins was ripped off the most. However, he would not sniff at my top 25. Yes, he did not play with great players, but most of the criticisms of him were true. For example, given his athletic ability, he should have been a better rebounder, passer, and defender.

  11. […] Basketball exhibition vs. Canada. I looked up and there was Chuck Daly (RIP), you, Clyde Drexler, Dominique Wilkins, Spencer Haywood…was that set up by the NBA? There were so many legends in that […]

  12. […] also liked Dominique Wilkins on the Atlanta Hawks because he was like the under dog. I wanted him to break out and win a […]

  13. […] athletes and coaches, feuded with writers, befriended writers and interviewed legends deserving of more respect. I’ve written and spoke with people I idolized as a young fan. I’ve been hated, loved, […]

  14. […] you had Michael, a little bit of Dominique in there and some Vince Carter. I see where you are going with that. Those are the […]

  15. […] post two interviews with Dominique Wilkins (it is ridiculous) and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford (took it way back to […]

  16. […] about fact so again stop that. Think about it, who in the top 50 should be replaced? McAdoo and ‘Nique didn’t even make the list. Spencer Haywood was as talented a basketball player as we’ve […]

  17. Samuel Mikuletic-Hicks says:

    ‘Nique was the Freak’ at small forward. He could do it all, not only offfensively, but he could play defense, and even block shots. His lack of rings only accentuates the fact that basketball is SUCH a team sport, and exceptional teammates are needed at multiple positions and quality coaching is also needed on BOTH ends of the floor to stop the other teams quality players. Heck, Wilt had trouble with all of those Celtics of an earlier era. But props to The Human Highlight Film! One of the great ones!

  18. Vinny Hardy says:

    This is awesome! Great questions, great honesty from ‘Nique. I knew you would have something about my guy. Thanks for taking the time to retweet mine sir!

  19. […] for LeBron if he attacks the basket and plays on the block. Nothing. What LeBron should do is watch Dominique, Mike Jordan and Doc Erving (ABA) tapes and pick up how they wanted to foul out everyone going to […]