Dominique Wilkins Opens up on Celtics, NBA History — & NBA Present

NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins (left) and Jaylen Brown of the Celtics

Getty NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins (left) and Jaylen Brown of the Celtics

BOSTON — When Celtics star Jaylen Brown threw down a windmill dunk on Thanksgiving eve, the first thought here was of Dominique Wilkins, who sort of holds the patent on such stuffing.

Was this an homage to the Human Highlight Film? Could the Brown throwdown have been inspired by Wilkins, the Hall of Famer who flew highest as a Hawk?

Nah. A quick check of the calendar math puts Jaylen at age 2 when ‘Nique played his last NBA game. It’s not surprising that a young player would have heard of Wilkins, but to be copying his moves?

Yet, there was Brown before the Celtics’ game against Atlanta Sunday, stopping on his way off the court after his pre-game sweat to greet Dominique, now a TV guy for the Hawks. They spoke for a bit, and then the questions had to be asked. Did Brown know that was a Wilkins specialty, and is that where he got the idea for the thing he slammed on a back-cut against the Bucks?

“Of course,” he said.

You really knew that was a Dominique move?

“C’mon man,” said Brown. “I’m from Georgia.”

Dominique Wilkins Saw Jaylen Brown in HS

Indeed, he grew up in Marietta, just northwest of Atlanta, where he would go as a budding high school star to work out with the college guys at Georgia Tech.

“I knew him when he was a kid coming up,” Wilkins told Heavy Sports. “And he was something at Wheeler (High School). I’ve always liked Jaylen. You could see he was always a good player, but he was a good kid, too.”

Turning to the present, Dominique added, “The thing about Jaylen is that not only is he athletic, but he is put together, too. He’s solid. He plays with a strength, and he comes to play every night. I’ve always admired his game. He’s strong and he knows how to play. He’s a multi-facet guy. He’s learned.

“A lot of guys don’t know about the history, about the guys that’s come before them. But a lot of guys do, and Jaylen’s one of those guys. He’s been around the NBA game his whole life. Even if he wasn’t a student of the game, just being a player around Atlanta, you couldn’t help but stumble on some history of the game.

“But he takes it even further than that. He knows the guys who came before him. Hey, being here in Boston, of course he’s going to know NBA history. There’s so much of it here. He knows about Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and Bob Cousy and Bill Russell and all them, because he’s living in that mystique as a Celtic.”

‘The Game Has Changed’

Sitting in the first row on the baseline under the Celtic banners Sunday, Wilkins opened up about today’s NBA — for better and worse.

“The game has changed,” he said. “It’s a more hybrid game. Guys play multiple positions, because there’s no more post players — and they don’t teach post play anymore. These guys rely on pick and roll, playing on the perimeter, shooting 3’s, and that’s fine. But when them 3’s ain’t going, what else do you have?

“The thing about this team here, the Celtics, is that they can shoot a lot of 3’s, but they also have so many other ways they can play.”

Putting the treys in perspective, Nique said, “Larry (Bird) is one of the greatest 3-point shooters in the history of the league, and he didn’t shoot that many of them. The way we looked at the game is that we wanted to attack. We wanted to attack our opponent and get them to foul and put us on the line. You get a couple of fouls on a guy and he don’t play as hard. He doesn’t want to pick up that next foul.”

The numbers are stark. Steph Curry is launching 12.1 3-pointers a game this year, while the most Bird ever averaged in a season was 3.3 — and he attempted just 1.9 a game for his career.

“They wanted the game to be faster, so they don’t let you play defense like what we had to go against,” Wilkins said. “Man, you could get beat up. The game’s more wide-open now, but there’s still teams that don’t know how to play really good wide-open basketball.”

Dominique Wilkins Would Have Averaged: ‘A Lot More Than 35 a Game’

Looking at the freedom of movement rules, he said, “I don’t know what I would have averaged, but it would have been a lot more than 35 a game, I tell you that. And it’s easier to have a longer career now, because the physicality and the bumping and grinding of the game isn’t the same. That stuff takes a lot out of you as a player. Then you add in how much better and more advanced the technology with injuries is now.

“But I ain’t mad at these guys. Man, get it how you get it. I wish we’d had opportunities to do the same thing, but that’s OK. That’s what it is. We had our time.”

Wilkins is happy now to keep tabs on the current situation and enjoy the growth of people like Brown.

Sitting an hour before tipoff, he had yet to see Jaylen’s jam. “But I’m definitely going to check that out,” he said.

Shown the video at halftime, Wilkins said, “Run that back … Oooh, and that was in traffic. That wasn’t on a fast break like most of mine were.

“I’ve seen guys try to emulate that. Some guys do it pretty good, but there’s only a few that do it very well.”

It helps to know the history.


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