How Dominique Wilkins built a legacy
A spectacular slam dunker and prolific scorer, "Nique" was the emblematic figure of the Hawks throughout the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s.
For 15 seasons, Dominique Wilkins – The Human Highlight Film – was the picture of ease on the basketball court. With gravity-defying hops and a tendency to dunk with the greatest authority and strength, Wilkins was entertainment on two legs and he rarely disappointed his audience. A typical Wilkins possession goes something like this: he makes one of a few moves, a flurry of jab steps and spins toward the baseline, where either a shot opens up and floats in, an opportunity to do a step-back 3-pointer, or a quick stride to the rim.
Almost regardless of the means, the end was usually a tick upward on the score; Wilkins is a 9-time NBA All-Star, 7-time all-NBA team member, and scored over 26,000 points in his career. Among all his career highlights, the biggest achievement and proudest moment was one that occurred not so long ago. “My biggest achievement just happened recently, and it has to do with being part of the NBA 75th Anniversary team. It immortalises you as a person, because what bigger honour is there than being amongst the greatest players that have ever played,” he discloses.
No matter how difficult a manoeuvre was, Wilkins tended to emerge from his scoring forays looking fresh and smiling widely, as if in on a joke that has revealed itself, already winding up to do it all again. “What it took mentally to play like that? Hard work, dedication, believing in yourself and having the right people around you,” he says. “It’s commitment and integrity all wrapped up,” he continues. His aura of good fun, intensity and killer instinct were all mythmaking qualities, enabling him to make a name for himself within the NBA.
Throughout his adolescence, Dominique learned about self-confidence, perseverance, and discipline. He was discovered on a playground in North Carolina and later became a basketball sensation at Washington High School. “I learnt all the basketball tools from my high school coach, coach Smith. He was one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever had. He was really tough and all he was trying to do was make us better, make us grow as men. Coach Smith was like a father and a coach, and he taught me how to play basketball.”
Wilkins spent hours and hours training, working on his jump shots, dribbles and dunks. “Basketball gave me a lot of great life lessons, and some failures and triumphs. It teaches you that you can fail but if you are willing to pick yourself up, brush yourself off and keep going, you can become very successful. It’s never lying down, never giving in, and it goes back to my high school coach making us recite the poem “Don’t Quit,” and that poem was a force for us before every game and that’s how I look at life.”
In February, 1985, during NBA All-Star in Indianapolis, Wilkins won the NBA Slam Dunk contest by beating another prolific player 147-136 in the final. Wilkins had for sure distinguished himself in a league with so many stars, so many personalities. “I trained tirelessly. And it ended up paying off,” he recalls.
One of the most explosive performances, some say the greatest, was in 1987 when Wilkins went head-to-head in a showdown in Atlanta that involved a two-man, back-and-forth show with jumpers, acrobatic layups and dunks. The bar was set high, a showdown that Wilkins remembers very fondly: “When you are playing against one of the greatest players to ever play the game, you had no choice but to be elevated and be very focused on playing. If you can’t lift your game to compete with him it’s going to be a long night,” he says laughing.
Game 7, 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals, TD Garden, Boston, Mass. – another scene where legend took hold. Wilkins and a notorious Boston Celtics legend put on quite the show with showdowns, comebacks and I’ll-show-you moments, leaving the spectators baffled to see such a thundering action. “That game will stick with me until the day I die because it ended up being the most intense game I ever played. It was the Playoffs, and you could feel the electricity, the heat in the air.”
A ruthless scorer, The Human Highlight Film always provided a show on his own, living up to Wilkins' nickname: “I got the nickname when I was in the 11th grade, and I was at a basketball camp. We played an All-Star game and I scored a lot and they just couldn’t tell how I was scoring so they kept rolling the film back to see how I was getting my points. At the end they said ‘Forget it, we’re just going to call him The Human Highlight Film’,” he says.
His dunks are infamous; Wilkins is a real glutton for numbers, always ready for individual exploit, a dunk, or a lay-up. And he’s always quick to seize a record. Some say he is one of the players that elevated dunking into an art. And he sure had a remarkable ability to defy gravity and improvise multiple ways to send the ball forcefully through the hoop.
“Dunking was a tool for intimidation for me, it wasn’t who I really was, but it gave me leverage. I played the game at one speed and that was all out. The harder I attacked the rim, the more I blocked out the guys who were trying to attack me. I always aimed to attack the rim as hard as I could.”
On Jan. 28, 1992, Wilkins’ career was on the verge of ending. Six minutes and 28 seconds of play in the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers, Wilkins collapses. Achilles tendon torn. Season over. “It was considered a career-ending injury. But what kept me motivated was the love for the game and to prove all the critics wrong. I heard all the negative feedback and I used it as a tool to prove them wrong. I trained twice per day for nine months and because of that hard work, I came back, and I had my best season ever. I’m probably the only star player that came back from that kind of injury after a year.”
A phenomenal athlete, an acrobatic dunker and a prodigious scorer, Wilkins was one of the most spectacular basketball players ever seen on the court. His fortes, a super-powerful one-handed dunk or a two-handed windmill, left no one untouched, and the way he was almost levitating across the court made the crowd bewildered. “If you respect this game and if you give everything you can to this game, it gives everything it has back to you,” he discloses.
Decades later, Dominique Wilkins is still seen as a cocktail of speed, relaxation, explosiveness, and elasticity. Simply put, as a true basketball savant.
THIS OR THAT WITH DOMINIQUE WILKINS
Hennessy neat or on the rocks?
“On the rocks.”
1983 NBA All-Rookie or 1985 NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Champion?
“1983 NBA All-Rookie”
What do you like best: the atmosphere before a game or after a game?
“After a game.”
The Human Highlight Film or Dominique Wilkins?
The Greek League or the Italian League?
“The Greek League.”
Spinning a basketball on your finger or dunking over other players?
“Dunking over other players.”
“Practice makes perfect” or “you’re born with it”?
“Practice makes perfect.”
Getting out of your comfort zone or staying inside it?
“Getting out of your comfort zone.”
A silent crowd or a loud one?
“A loud one.”
HENNESSY THE SPIRIT OF THE NBA
How Dominique Wilkins built a legacy
"BASKETBALL TAUGHT ME HOW TO WORK HARD"
THE ALLEY-OOP COCKTAIL
THE PLAYMAKER COCKTAIL
HENNESSY PARADIS x LORENZ BAUMER
Masiwei: "Success is following your heart and doing what you love."
PROJECT "IN THE PAINT" INSPIRING COMMUNITIES THROUGH ART & BASKETBALL
THE HENNESSY SONIC COCKTAIL
THE REBOUND COCKTAIL
French photographer Kevin Couliau explores a global game's social impact
Vince Carter Never stops
Shooting hoops in the most stunning athletic arenas
THE CROSSOVER COCKTAIL
THE JUMPSHOT GINGER COCKTAIL
THE SLAM DUNK COCKTAIL
Hennessy stepped into Sophia Chang’s world: the multitalented artist behind the NBA illustration
HENNESSY BECOMES THE NBA’S FIRST GLOBAL SPIRITS PARTNER
Hennessy V.S NBA Limited Edition
Fans around the world will be able to toast with the new exclusive Hennessy V.S Limited Edition bottle, specially designed to commemorate the partnership between Hennessy and the NBA.
Hennessy Very Special (V.S) is one of the most popular cognacs in the world. Matured in new oak barrels, Hennessy V.S is bold and fragrant. Its beguiling character is uniquely Hennessy, a timeless choice with an intensity all its own. Hennessy V.S offers toasted and fruit notes, with a rich, clearly defined palate and a welcoming exuberance.
Hennessy V.S expresses its vibrant and dynamic personality through unique artist partnerships and annual limited editions. Easy to enjoy, it’s a perfect cognac for high-energy occasions and sharing the moment.
The round and robust flavours of Hennessy V.S make it very versatile and ideal for any cocktail possibility, from classic recipes and sophisticated cocktail creations to easy mixed drinks.
Hennessy V.S.O.P NBA Limited Edition
Fans around the world will be able to toast with the new exclusive Hennessy V.S.O.P Limited Edition bottle, specially designed to commemorate the partnership between Hennessy and the NBA.
Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège is a balanced cognac, expressing 200 years of Hennessy's know-how. The fruit of nature’s uncertainties, this unique blend has tamed the elements to craft and embody the original concept of cognac. The emotion awakened by the pleasure of tasting it continually reveals new facets of its personality.
The savoir-faire of the Maison Hennessy is fully expressed in this balanced cognac: the selection of eaux-de-vie, aging and assemblage. A cognac of remarkable consistency and vitality, Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège conveys all of the savoir-faire of the Hennessy master blenders who have ensured the continued success of this harmonious assemblage for 200 years.
Hennessy X.O NBA Limited Edition
Fans around the world will be able to toast with the new exclusive Hennessy X.O Limited Edition bottle, specially designed to commemorate the partnership between Hennessy and the NBA.
In 1870, Maurice Hennessy, a 4th-generation member of the Hennessy family, asked the Master Blender Emile Fillioux, a descendant of the Hennessy Master Blender Jean Fillioux, to create a special cognac for his family and friends, using long-aged eaux-de-vie to perfect the blend. They called it “X.O” for “Extra Old”, the original, and a legend was born. Hennessy X.O attained international renown and contributed to the development of the category XO which is a gauge of uncompromising quality. Thanks to 150 years of meticulous know-how, Hennessy X.O remains as inspiring today as it was the day Hennessy first shared it with his inner circle. The powerful and balanced structure of Hennessy X.O carries the promise of an extremely long finish, with each drop an invitation to embark on a journey of the senses through seven tasting notes.
THE WORLD OF HENNESSY
Please register to stay in touch with Hennessy and receive our latest news.