Jacques Dominique Wilkins (born January 12, 1960, in Paris, France) is a retired American professional basketball player in the NBA and Basketball Hall of Famer. "'Nique" (also nicknamed The Human Highlight Film) is one of the most prolific scorers and best dunkers in NBA history.
Early life and college
Wilkins was born in Paris, due to his father being stationed there while in the U.S. Air Force. He then moved to Washington, North Carolina where he attended Washington High School. He was the back-to-back MVP for the team's consecutive Class 3-A State Championships (1978-1979). He entered the University of Georgia in 1979 with an established reputation as an exciting player. Wilkins averaged 21.6 points a game over his career and was named SEC Men's Basketball Player of the Year as a junior in 1981. He left college after his junior year and was selected 3rd overall, behind James Worthy and Terry Cummings, by the Utah Jazz in the 1982 NBA Draft.
Cash flow problems within the Utah Jazz organization along with his reluctance to play with the team led to him being traded to the Atlanta Hawks several months after the draft. The trade included John Drew, Freeman Williams and cash. Prior to his last three NBA seasons, Wilkins never averaged fewer than 20 points per game and captured a scoring title in 1985-86 with an average of 30.3 points per game.
Wilkins, in addition to his eleven seasons with the Hawks, had short stints with the Los Angeles Clippers, the Boston Celtics, Panathinaikos Athens (a professional team in Greece's A1 Ethniki League, with whom he won his first title, the European Clubs' Championship and the Greek Cup), Fortitudo Bologna (a professional team in Italy's Serie A League), the San Antonio Spurs, and the Orlando Magic before he retired in 1999.
Wilkins was instrumental in the Hawks' prominence in the 1980s, when the club recorded four consecutive 50-win seasons during the decade. As Wilkins entered his 30s and the Hawks needed more of an all-around contribution from their star, Wilkins stepped forward, averaging 9.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists during the 1990-91 season.
A nine-time NBA All-Star and the winner of two NBA Slam Dunk Contests, Wilkins registered 26,668 points and 7,169 rebounds in his NBA career. His career points total ranks him ninth in career scoring, and he is one of just 14 players to total 25,000 points or more for a career.
Wilkins' nickname was the "The Human Highlight Film" for his incredible athletic ability and highlight reel dunks. His trademark dunk was a powerful one- or two-handed windmill, dunks he used to capture the Slam Dunk titles in 1985 and 1990. As a basketball player he was known as an acrobatic scorer, somewhat of a gunner, though an outstanding finisher and one of the greatest game dunkers in NBA History.
His #21 jersey was retired by the Hawks on January 13, 2001. He is one of four players to have had their jerseys retired by the Hawks.
Early NBA years
Wilkins had already proved himself as the real deal in Atlanta, but the rest of the country quickly took notice of the exciting third-year forward when he notched his first Slam-Dunk Championship at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis. He went on to finish the season with a 27.4 scoring average, good for sixth in the NBA. Wilkins ranked second on the Hawks in rebounding (6.9 rpg) and steals (135). For the first of two straight seasons he led the NBA in field-goal attempts, with 1,891. After going 0-for-11 from the three-point line the previous season, Wilkins made 25 of 81 treys in 1984–85. He also shot better than 80 percent from the line for the first of 10 consecutive seasons. Despite Wilkins’s efforts, Atlanta finished 34-48 and failed to reach the NBA Playoffs.
Wilkins exploded into the NBA’s elite circle in 1985–86, winning the league scoring title with an average of 30.3 points per game. He was an NBA All-Star for the first time and was voted to the All-NBA First Team at the end of the season. Wilkins failed in his bid to repeat as NBA Slam-Dunk champion, his competition coming from an unlikely source. The Hawks had signed 5-foot-7 Spud Webb as a free agent prior to the season, and Webb dazzled the All-Star Saturday crowd in Dallas by soaring more than 4 feet to the basket on each of his dunk attempts. Wilkins had to settle for second place behind his diminutive rookie teammate. Atlanta turned its fortunes around in dramatic fashion, winning 16 more games in the 1985–86 season to finish 50-32 for the year. Wilkins scored 57 points in one game and ranked among the Hawks’ leaders in rebounding (7.9 rpg), steals (138), and free-throw percentage (.818). Atlanta beat the Detroit Pistons in four games in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, but the Hawks couldn’t get past the eventual NBA-champion Boston Celtics, losing four games to one in an Eastern Conference Semifinal series. Wilkins averaged 28.6 points in the nine playoff games.
After earning his way in as a reserve the previous year, Wilkins captured the fans’ votes this season and became the first Atlanta Hawks player to start in an NBA All-Star Game since Eddie Johnson in 1981. Wilkins finished the year second in the league in scoring (29.0 ppg) to Michael Jordan’s astronomical 37.1 points per game. He scored the 10,000th point of his young career against the Chicago Bulls on April 16 and was named to the All-NBA Second Team at season’s end. Atlanta went into the season with high expectations after a 50-32 mark the previous year, and the Hawks didn’t disappoint, totaling a franchise-record 57 victories. Doc Rivers, Kevin Willis, Tree Rollins, and Mike McGee contributed heavily as the club made it through the first round of the NBA Playoffs before losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Detroit Pistons. Wilkins averaged 26.8 points during the postseason, the second of six straight playoffs in which he would average at least 20 points.
In the 1987-88 season, Wilkins posted the highest scoring average of his career and still finished second to Jordan in the NBA scoring race. He averaged 30.7 points for the Hawks, but Jordan bested him at 35.0. To add insult to injury, Jordan beat out Wilkins, in a controversial decision, for the Slam-Dunk Championship at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago. Still, it was a marvelous season for the Human Highlight Film, as he earned a berth on the All-NBA Second Team and became the first Hawks player to be named NBA Player of the Week three times in a season. In his third straight All-Star Game appearance, Wilkins scored 29 points on 12-of-22 shooting, leading the East squad to a 138-133 victory. Again, Jordan beat out Wilkins for top honors, this time earning the All-Star Game MVP Award with his 40 points. Atlanta (50-32) won at least 50 games for the third straight season and advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals before losing to the Boston Celtics in seven games. The series produced one of the most memorable games in playoff history. In Game 7 on May 22, Wilkins and Larry Bird carried their respective teams to a thrilling finish, trading bucket for bucket in the fourth quarter until Boston escaped with a 118-116 victory. Wilkins finished with 47 points and Bird had 34—with 20 of his points tallied in the fourth quarter. “The basket was like a well,” remembered Wilkins. “I couldn’t miss. He couldn’t miss. And it went down to the last shot of the game. Who was going to make the last shot? That’s the greatest game I’ve ever played in or seen played. It was two guys who just did not want to lose.”
During the 1989 season, Wilkins’s scoring average dropped slightly to 26.2, good for seventh in the league, but he was an All-Star for the fourth straight year. He shot a career-best .844 from the free-throw line and ranked second on the Hawks with 117 steals. Basketball writers selected him to the All-NBA Third Team at season’s end. The Hawks added Reggie Theus and Moses Malone to the mix in 1988–89, and the ingredients seemed just right for a run deep into the playoffs. Malone averaged 20.2 points and finished fourth in the league with his 11.8 rebounding average. Theus, meanwhile, averaged 15.8 points. But without 7-foot Kevin Willis, who missed the entire season with a fractured left foot, Atlanta lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. Wilkins did his part in the five playoff games, averaging 27.2 points.
Wilkins returned to dunking prominence in 1989–90 by edging out the Sacramento Kings’ Kenny Smith for his second NBA Slam-Dunk Championship. By winning the crown at the 1990 NBA All-Star Weekend in Miami, Wilkins joined Michael Jordan as the only player to win the competition twice. He had another outstanding regular season, averaging 26.7 points to finish fifth in the NBA scoring race. He led the Hawks in steals for the first time since 1985–86, finishing with 126. His .484 field-goal percentage was the best since his rookie season, and for the sixth straight year he did not foul out of a game. Nonetheless, Atlanta struggled to a 41-41 record in Mike Fratello’s last season as head coach, failing to make the playoffs for only the second time in Wilkins’s career.
Wilkins averaged a career-high 9.0 rebounds in 1990—91, leading the Hawks in that category for the first time in his nine NBA seasons. He also led the team in scoring for the eighth straight year, finishing at 25.9 points per game—seventh best in the NBA. In what may be his best all-around season, Wilkins registered a career-high 265 assists while developing a three-point shot he would use more and more in the later stages of his career. He hit 85-of-249 from long range for a .341 percentage, by far his most prolific three-point numbers to date. Wilkins made his sixth All-Star Game appearance this season, scoring 12 points in the East’s 116-114 victory over the West. He was selected to the All-NBA Second Team for the third time in his career. Atlanta returned to the playoffs after a year’s absence, drawing the defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons in the first round. The Hawks pushed the Pistons to a fifth game, but Detroit routed Atlanta, 113-81, in Game 5. The series with the Pistons was one to forget for Wilkins. Although he averaged 20.8 points in the five games, he shot .372 from the field and .133 from three-point range.
There is little question that Wilkins will look back on this season as the worst—and most frightening—of his career. He was piling up typically outstanding numbers when, after 42 games, his season was brought to an abrupt halt by one of the most painful injuries in sports: a ruptured Achilles tendon. There was 5:32 left in the second quarter of a January 28 home game against the Philadelphia 76ers when Wilkins went down with the injury. He underwent surgery on January 30, and many thought the 10-year veteran’s career was over. Seven weeks before the injury, Wilkins had set an NBA record by making 23 free throws in 23 attempts in a game against the Chicago Bulls. He’d also scored the 20,000th point of his illustrious career, becoming only the 16th player at the time to reach that plateau. On the day of the injury, Wilkins was named a reserve on the Eastern Conference All-Star Team. His 28.1 scoring average was his highest in five years, and the 52 points he scored in a double-overtime game on December 7 against the New York Knicks were the most by an NBA player this season.
Many thought Wilkins would retire after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon midway through the 1991–92 season. That just made him more determined to come back—and he did, with one of the best seasons of his 11-year career. For his efforts, Wilkins was honored by several sports publications as the NBA Comeback Player of the Year. Showing no traces of the injury, Wilkins blazed to an average of 27.7 points per game in the first month of the season. He then suffered a setback when he fractured the ring finger on his right hand on December 15, sitting out the next 11 games. But Wilkins returned to rack up 29.4 points per game on .487 shooting in January, then added 31.5 points per game on .519 shooting in February. By the end of the season, his scoring average was up to 29.9, second in the league behind Michael Jordan’s 32.6. When Wilkins scored his 31st point in a February 2 game against the Seattle SuperSonics, he broke Bob Pettit’s franchise scoring record of 20,880 points. He had developed into a full-fledged three-point threat, hitting 120 of 316 attempts from long range to shatter his previous career bests. Wilkins’s remarkable comeback was acknowledged with a selection to the All-NBA Second Team.
Wilkins showed no signs of fading in his 12th NBA campaign, even after a tumultuous midseason trade. After 11½ years with the Atlanta Hawks, during which he became one of the city’s most beloved athletes, Wilkins was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers on February 24 in exchange for Danny Manning. Prior to the trade Wilkins averaged 24.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for Atlanta, leading the club to a 36-16 record. At midseason he appeared in his eighth NBA All-Star Game. However, Hawks management and new coach Lenny Wilkens felt Manning and his multidimensional skills might help the team more during the stretch run. As it turned out, the top-seeded Hawks lost in the conference semifinals to the Indiana Pacers. Wilkins left Atlanta as the team’s all-time leading scorer with 23,292 points. Once in Los Angeles, Wilkins became one of the few bright spots on an otherwise struggling Clippers team. In his final 25 games of the season Wilkins averaged 29.1 points and 7.0 rebounds. On March 25 he returned to Atlanta in a Clippers uniform and tallied 36 points and 10 rebounds against his former team. Overall, Wilkins’s 26.0 scoring average ranked fourth in the NBA. He concluded the season with 24,019 career points, placing ninth on the NBA’s all-time list. His career scoring average of 26.2 points per game ranks first among active players. Wilkins became a free agent after the 1993–94 season and signed with the Boston Celtics. Shortly after the signing, he helped Dream Team II to a gold medal at the 1994 World Championship of Basketball.
Unhappy with his role on a rebuilding Celtics team, he signed to play for Panathinaikos of the Greek League. He averaged 20.9 points and 7.0 rebounds for Panathinaikos and led the team to the European Championship for Men's Clubs in 1996 which regroups teams from dozens of European leagues. Wilkins was named the MVP of the Euroleague Final Four in Paris. He also won the Greek Cup with Panathinaikos and was named the MVP of the Cup Final.
He returned to the NBA before the 1996-97 season, signing a contract as a free agent with the San Antonio Spurs to solidify their bench scoring. Wilkins led the team with an average of 18.2 ppg in 1996-97. However, after one season, Wilkins once again went overseas, this time signing a contract with Teamsystem Bologna of the Italian League for the 1997-98 season. He returned to play his last season in the NBA during the 1998-99 campaign alongside his brother Gerald with the Orlando Magic. In only 27 games, he averaged just 5.0 ppg and 2.6 rpg but will always be remembered as one of the game's most exciting players.
Slam dunk contests
Wilkins participated in five slam dunk contests, winning two. The first one was in 1984, in Denver. Dominique finished third behind Larry Nance and Julius Erving. In 1985, in Indianapolis, he beat Michael Jordan in the finals. In Dallas in 1986, a Jordan-Wilkins rematch was put on hold, since Michael Jordan was injured. Dominique reached the finals where he was upset by his 5' 7" teammate, Anthony "Spud" Webb.
The highly anticipated rematch of Wilkins vs Jordan was in the 1988 Chicago All-Star Weekend. The duo put on a show for the ages. At the end Michael Jordan prevailed winning 147 to 145. Many thought that if the contest was held in another arena, it would have gone the Nique's way.
In 1990 Dominique decided to make a final appearance in the Slam Dunk Contest. He went up against all the new promising stars, like Shawn Kemp, Scottie Pippen and Kenny Walker (the 1989 champion). In the finals he defeated Kenny Smith from the Sacramento Kings. That was Nique's second and final victory in a Slam Dunk contest.
||Lists of miscellaneous information should be avoided. Please relocate any relevant information into appropriate sections or articles. (May 2008)
- He is the older brother of former NBA guard Gerald Wilkins, and uncle to current Oklahoma City Thunder guard–forward Damien Wilkins.
- Wilkins was ranked #27 on SLAM Magazine's Top 75 NBA Players of all time in 2003.
- Wilkins did not foul out during his final 957 games, the third longest such streak (behind Moses Malone and Wilt Chamberlain).
- Wilkins was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame on April 3, 2004.
- Wilkins was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 3, 2006.
- Wilkins once served as an obstacle in an obstacle course on the Nickelodeon sports show Guts.
Awards and achievements
- 1985-86 NBA Scoring Champion (30.3)
- NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Champion: 1985, 1990.
- NBA All-Rookie Team: 1983.
- All-NBA First Team: 1986.
- All-NBA Second Team: 1987, 1988, 1991, 1993.
- All-NBA Third Team: 1989, 1994.
- Nine-time NBA All-Star: 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994.
- Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2006).
- European Champion: 1996 (now known as Euroleague).
- Greek Cup: 1996
- Record holder of most free throws made in an NBA regular season game without a miss - 23, Atlanta vs. Chicago, December 8, 1992