ATLANTA — Dominique Wilkins is still a beloved sports figure in the Atlanta sports community.
Nique’s No. 21 jersey is hanging from the rafters at Philips Arena, it’s hard to miss his 13½–foot bronze statue planted outside, and he remains the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.
The 58-year-old still gets love from fans as a Hawks color analyst, but his Hall of Fame career may have turned out much different had he stayed with the team that selected him third in the 1982 draft out of Georgia: the Utah Jazz.
At the time, he now admits to being reluctant to suit up in a Jazz uniform and was ultimately traded to the Hawks before the season for $1 million in cash, Freeman Williams and John Drew.
The trade is still considered one of the worst in league history as Wilkins would go on to become a nine-time All-Star and slam dunk champion.
“I didn’t … at that time,” Wilkins said of playing in Utah. “Well, they wanted me to play power forward and I wasn’t playing power forward. I was a small forward. Power forwards in them days was some big, physical and I’m not going to say what else and I didn’t want no part of that.”
As a more mature individual now, Wilkins said he often thinks about how things may have been had he stayed in Utah to join forces with John Stockton and Karl Malone. Instead of two finals appearances, maybe a few championship banners might be hanging in Vivint Arena.
“Playing with Stockton and Malone, we probably could’ve won a few championships,” Wilkins said. “Not probably, we would’ve, but again, things happen in life for a reason, and you’ve got to take what cards are dealt, but coming to Atlanta was a blessing for me, and I’ve never left.”
The league has now transitioned, too. During his era, there weren’t as many stretch fours and combo players, so it’s cool to see the game evolve from his perspective, but at that time, he wanted no part of the low post in Utah.
“I mean, it’s more diverse, more hybrid players playing multiple positions, but in my day you was just happy to play one, sometimes two but you didn’t play multiple positions because the league was physical,” Wilkins recalled.