The high-flying Wilkins took part in five NBA Slam Dunk Contests, winning two.
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Q&A: Dominique Wilkins
Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, a 6'8 small forward also known as the Human Highlight Film, is the Atlanta Hawks' all-time leading scorer. He was also a scoring champion (he averaged 30.3 points per game in 1985-86), a nine-time All-Star, and, perhaps most memorably, a two-time Slam Dunk Contest champion. (And if that's not enough to convince you that he deserves his nickname, just watch this.) These days, the Georgia alum serves as a commentator for Fox Sports and as the vice president of basketball for the Hawks. SI.com's Pablo S. Torre spoke with Wilkins about the art of dunking, the futility of chasing Michael Jordan and the biggest difference between his era and the game today.
SI.com:Who is the most impressive dunker you've ever seen, and why?
Wilkins:I go all the way back to Dr. J. He made the things he did look so easy, so effortless. Dunking was like second nature to him. It was a beautiful thing to watch, how he moved the ball in the air. He was almost like a ballet dancer.
SI.com:How disappointed are you in the current NBA Slam Dunk Contest? When you did it, it seemed like all the big stars would come out.
Wilkins:I would love to see all the great ones take part today. I was really happy that LeBron James said he's going to participate next year. I hope some of the other great dunkers in the game get involved. That's the only way you'll find out who's the best dunker around.
SI.com:How much prodding did you need to participate in the contest when you were playing?
Wilkins:When we were asked to do it, someone would just come to us with just a "yes" or "no" question. And a lot of the guys said yes. Because it wasn't really about us. It was for the fans. Dunking was just a tool for intimidation that I used, too. It wasn't who I was. But because I was a high flyer, that's how people saw me. That's the only real downside to the contest.
SI.com:What's your take on the more creative dunks we've been seeing recently?
Wilkins:Well, the problem is that you can't really do anything new anymore. You take dunks that have been done before and you put on different variations on them to make it look different, but it's really all the same. And you show more creativity by thinking of things on your own, without the use of props. I think that makes the dunk more special, just using your imagination.
SI.com:How did you generate ideas for your dunk contest appearances?
Wilkins:To be honest with you, it was spontaneous. Not a lot of thought went into it! I went and practiced with the guys a couple times, and it was more like, "Hmm, I think I'll do this in the dunk contest." But I didn't prepare in a gym by myself like it was a big secret. Some of the stuff I did in contests I also did in games.
SI.com:What's your favorite dunk in the history of Slam Dunk Contests?
Wilkins:The one- and two-handed windmills. I loved to hit it in the air off of two feet.
SI.com:When was the last time you dunked?
Wilkins:A couple weeks ago. But I still hurt! Dunking isn't a problem. It's the aftereffects.
SI.com:People may not realize that the NBA didn't name you one of the top 50 players of all time. As someone who appreciates history, how disappointed were you about that?
Wilkins:It was ridiculous. I was very disappointed, and I still get angry at times. It's ridiculous that they'd leave me and a guy like Bob McAdoo off that list. But now it's more bittersweet. Being in the Hall of Fame sort of alleviates that bad feeling.
SI.com:Your rivalry with Michael Jordan was epic, spanning not just dunk contests but scoring titles. Do you ever think about what your trophy case would have looked like without Michael in the picture?
Wilkins:I chased him for six years, and I got tired. I said, "The hell with it!" I look at it like this: maybe if Michael wasn't around, life wouldn't have been as interesting. We still talk, we're friends -- we're both North Carolina boys -- and we have a lot of respect for each other. We were showmen, but away from the floor we were friends.
SI.com:Finally: what's the biggest difference between your era and the modern one?
Wilkins:It's the rivalries. There were a lot more rivalries back then: Boston, LA, Detroit. And I think you have guys playing far more positions [today]. I was a small forward, and I wanted to stay at small forward because power forwards had a license to kick your butt! I didn't want any part of that. I had enough problems guarding the guys in my day: Dr. J, Larry Bird, Adrian Dantley and Alex English.
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