During a 15-year Hall of Fame NBA career, Dominique Wilkins was a nine-time All-Star, two-time Slam Dunk Contest champion and scoring champion. But maybe more than anything, he was a legendary dunker, earning the nickname “The Human Highlight Film.” We caught up with ‘Nique, 58, to talk dunks, cars and his rival, Michael Jordan.
This is the 30th anniversary of the 1988 showdown with you and Michael Jordan; many people think that's the greatest Slam Dunk Contest there's ever been. What's stands out most about that night?
First of all, I can't believe it's 30 years. Thirty years. But yeah, I would like to think it's the best ever, as well. That's from a selfish standpoint. It was the level of competition. Michael and I wanted to know who the best was. And that's what brought out the best of each other.
You went up against Michael Jordan in Chicago and also lost a classic to Spud Webb in his hometown of Dallas. You kept losing to hometown guys. Were you robbed? Should you be a four-time Dunk champ?
I'll tell you what, let's do a poll and let that poll decide. Both of those contests was a lot of fun. I mean, Spud who was a very close friend and teammate of mine at the time, was like a little brother. And Michael and I, who were fierce competitors. So it set up two of the best dunk contests ever.
There was some home cooking though, don't you think?
Probably a tad.
How impressive was Spud Webb as an athlete?
He was an incredible athlete in the sense that, to be so small (5’7”), athletically some of the stuff he did above the rim. But more importantly, how fast he was. He could beat people from one end of the floor to the other, with the basketball. Which not many guys can do that. John Wall is one of those guys that I think who does that on a nightly basis.
How did Dr. J influence the evolution of the slam dunk as we know it?
Dr. J in my opinion, is kind of the granddaddy of it all, because it's stuff that he did on the court. Doc was the first of those ballerina type of athlete that looks so graceful on the floor. He brought that every single night. It was like traveling with Michael Jackson when you traveled with Doc in those days. That's how big and popular he was.
What's the difference between the Slam Dunk Content mentality and in-game dunking? Because it seems like a lot of the guys that thrive in the Slam Dunk Contest aren't necessarily great in-game dunkers, like you and Michael were. What's the difference between those two styles?
That's a great question. The difference is, in-game dunkers do stuff that you do every night, in traffic, off the brake, on the fly. And if you look at the dunk contest Michael and I were in, that was stuff we did in the games. I never worked on moves before those dunk contests, and neither did Michael. We did stuff off the fly.
Your signature windmill dunk, where did that originate?
It was by accident, actually. This happened in high school, believe it or not. Someone tried to block my shot, but the only way I could get around them and get to the rim was I had to bring the ball back down and up again, and that's how I really started doing that [windmill]. It was really by accident.
And then you just started doing it on breakaways? How did that become your signature dunk?
When I got that nickname, the Human Highlight Film, also in high school, I hated that name. But over time I started to love that. I said, "Wait a minute. I could make a little money off this name." So I said "Hey, when I go to the basket, I gotta make it look good." So I started doing [the windmill].
You and Michael Jordan are linked, but also your brother, Gerald Wilkins, called himself the “Jordan Stopper” for a time. What was your reaction to that?
You know what, he made Michael work, but Michael still got his 40. He made have held him to 40 instead of 45, okay? The thing I love about my brother Gerald is that he had no fear. He's gonna battle, he'll play you hard, and that's how he made his career. He was a workman type of player that brought it every night. I couldn't be more proud of what he accomplished as a player.
Tell me about your partnership with Autotrader…
First of all, Autotrader has been a long-standing partner with the NBA, so I'm working with them to bring about awareness to the all-new Autotrader website (Autotrader.com). Autotrader has been a company who invented online car shopping. They're doing it again by doing something new and even more innovative.
What I love about what they're doing is they’re really changing the game on how people buy cars. This new website is going to be faster, easier, more personalized online car shopping experience. Being a guy who bought cars from them over the years, it's given me an opportunity to find the exact cars that I wanted. Not just for myself, but for my family members, my son and my sister who I've bought cars for over the years.
Are you a car guy?
I've been a car guy since the 80's. You want to make sure you buy the right way, because you can buy cars that look good on the surface but might not be a car that has everything you need, as far as how tip-top that car is. Autotrader's going to give you the history of that car and so you're going to know what you're buying. And the worst thing to do is buy a car and then you get in it, and that thing breaks down because you find out it had some problems that you didn't know.
What was the first car you ever owned?
First car I've ever owned was a Monte Carlo, 1979. It was just a nice two-door car that got me from A to B.
What's your favorite car?
I would hands down say Mercedes-Benz. And the reason why is because that car actually saved my life. I had an accident. And that car saved my life. That's my favorite car.
What happened in the accident?
I got T-boned by a school bus who ran a traffic light. And that car was pushed 35 feet down the street and turned all the way around, and the whole left side was shredded metal. But the inside of that car didn't have a single thing wrong with it because the way the doors are reinforced. The way Mercedes built that car. So yeah, that's hands down my favorite.