Cover Story: Q&A with Dominique Wilkins

The Human Highlight Film’ explains why the current Atlanta Hawks are stars in their own right

Dominique Wilkins, the greatest superstar in Atlanta Hawks franchise history, is still a huge presence in the organization. Known as “the human highlight film,” Wilkins is the Hawks’ all-time leading scorer with 23,292 points in his 12-year career playing for the team from 1982 to ‘94.

Today his official title is vice president, basketball. He also took on the role of special advisor to Hawks CEO Steve Koonin shortly after the indefinite leave of GM Danny Ferry and owner Bruce Levenson’s decision to sell the team based on his racially charged email. Wilkins often roams the sidelines before games, shaking hands and talking to fans. Despite his easygoing vibe, he got intense when we talked basketball by phone and I suggested that the current Hawks lineup could have beaten his team from the ’80s.

Is there a superstar on this team?

There are stars. Superstars? They don’t need superstars. They’ve got guys, in my opinion, that are superstars. And that’s Jeff Teague and Paul Milsap. Those guys have been very instrumental in the Hawks’ winning season. I love those guys. I would say those two guys are my equivalent of a superstar.

Why is this team good?

They’re good for three reasons. One, they defend on the ball and they defend on the wing. Two, is that they trust each other and share the basketball. Three, is that you have 10 guys on our team that can shoot the ball. That’s why they’re winning.

How is that different from other teams?

Other teams don’t have as many shooters as we have. Other teams don’t have the defensive commitment that we have.

What about the style of play? Do you think they pass more than other teams or play more of a team style?

They’re the type of team that I used to play against in the past, like the Denver Nuggets, who run a beautiful passing game. What they do is they penetrate the kick. When you penetrate the kick, you’re gonna get open shots and since we have so many shooters, somebody’s gonna be open.

Do you think this is the best team in franchise history?

No. I wouldn’t say it’s the best team in franchise history. It’s a different era. You can’t really compare the eras. I hate comparisons. But they are, in my opinion, the best team in this era.

How do you define “this era”?

The current era that the guys are playing in. It makes them a very tough team to play. You’ve gotta understand something. The game back when we played was played from the inside out — physical, very skilled, very big athletic guys. So you had to play defense on the inside as well as on the perimeter. It was a different game. But this is beautiful basketball to watch. I love the way we play. I love the team. I think we’re gonna go far.

Talk a little bit more about what you mean when you say this is a beautiful team to watch.

They just pass the basketball. They move together, and they pass the basketball, and they trust each other.

Do you think the teams you played on in the past could beat these guys? How bad would you beat them?

How bad would we beat the team? That’s really — like, again, I don’t like comparisons.

I’m just playing with you. I understand.

I don’t like comparisons. You’re talking two different eras. You’re talking some of the greatest players of all time in that era. These guys have a right to be called one of the best teams, so you can’t discount that by any means. You’re talking about the hand-check, physical era. No flagrant fouls. Come on, man. That’s just a different era. We were just so big. Teams were big back then. This team here, are they one of the best teams in franchise history? Absolutely, they are. No question. But again, when you start comparing different eras it’s really not fair to that era or this era.

What do the Atlanta Hawks mean to you personally?

I love them. This is a franchise I helped build. I’m ecstatic about what this franchise is doing now, how we’ve moved forward. I love this franchise. That’s why I’m still here in Atlanta.

Do you think the event at the beginning of the season involving Danny Ferry and Bruce Levenson has had any impact on where we’re at today?

Do you know what? That’s nothing that I really care about. That’s the past, in my opinion, and it’s about what we do now, moving forward, to continue to improve our brand and improve our fan base. It’s been the best I’ve seen in a long time. And we want to continue to expand and improve on that and enhance it. That’s the only thing we care about. All the things that happened in the past, I leave in the past.

Looking towards the future, do you think Danny Ferry should come back?

Again, that’s nothing I want to get into because that’s not important to me. But I will tell you this: This team is in a great place. They’re in a great space, and why interrupt that with negativity?