Conquering Dunks and Diabetes

Dominique Wilkins is the 12th all-time leading scorer in NBA history. The former Atlanta Hawks star retired in 1999. He was a nine-time all-star and won the slam dunk contest during all-star weekend in 1985 and 1990. Nicknamed “The Human Highlight Film,” Wilkins is considered one of the best dunkers of all-time. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. In college, he played for Louisville native and Eastern High School graduate Hugh Durham at the University of Georgia. Durham and Wilkins will be inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame on November 18. In 2000, at the age of 40, Wilkins was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. For more information on his latest project, visit diabetesdreamteam.com.

How scary was it was you received the diagnosis that you have diabetes?

Photo by James David Abke.

Photo by James David Abke.

It was really scary because I said, “Hey, how can somebody be in great shape and play all these years professionally – how can I have diabetes?” So, I went through a denial for a very short period of time. Once I accepted it, I said, “You know what, I’m going to manage this disease the right way.” That’s why the partnership with Novo Nordisk is so important to me because we’ve built the Diabetes Dream Team program to help people manage diabetes the right way, and it’s really been very helpful for me because I’ve been able to sit with my doctor and build a program that worked for me when my pill didn’t get me to my goal. Our mission is to encourage people to build relationships with their physicians so they can build programs that can work for them.

How has it changed your life?

It made me look at food differently. Making sure that I stay physically active. I’m a physically active guy anyway. I do a lot of stuff – be it around the house or I get out and walk – and I work out. I make sure I take my medication in the right way, correctly, in the morning and in the evening. It helps me stay balanced out.

No more dunking?

Yeah, I can still dunk. I pick and choose the times when I do that. When my son challenges me, he says that I can’t do it, so you know, we make a little bet, side bet, but I only do it once. Maybe once a week, that’s it.

What comes to your mind when I say Darrell Griffith?

Amazing athlete. He was an amazing athlete. Actually Darrell Griffith is a close friend of mine. We haven’t seen each other for some years now, but I have a lot of respect for Darrell. He is one of the first 6-foot-4 guys that could do the stuff that he did. He was an acrobat. He was something else in the air.

Do you watch the dunk contest now?

I watched it this year. It was down for a while. I thought those young guys, [Zach] LaVine and [Aaron] Gordon, put on a wonderful show. They brought the dunk contest back actually.

Who should have won?

LaVine was great, but I thought Gordon won.

It’s not the first time that the guy who should have won didn’t, is it?

I know better than anybody. You know what though, I give credit to those guys because at least those fans got their money’s worth. That’s what I felt about Michael Jordan and my dunk contest – it didn’t matter who won or lost. The fans got their money’s worth.

Hugh Durham is also a Louisville native. Does he have a special place in your heart?

For me, it’s a thrill to go into the College Basketball Hall of Fame with Hugh Durham. He’s like a father to me more so than a coach. To go in with him, that is a special, special moment.

Being from North Carolina, why did you go to Georgia?

That’s a long story, but to give you the short of it, I wanted to go to a school that I couldn’t be compared to anybody. At that time, going to the University of Georgia, there was nobody to compare me to. That university took care of me in every way. They embraced me and made me feel like I was from Georgia. Georgia is always going to be a part of my life.

Who is the toughest guy that you had to guard?

First of all, at my position, the small forward position, they were all hard. They were all equally just dangerous players, and Larry Bird is at the top of that list. I never feared anybody I ever played against. There’s only one guy that made me nervous and that was Bernard King because he was going to get 40 no matter what you did. I used to say to myself, “OK, he’s going to get 40, I’m going to get 40, we’ll just call it a wash. I’m not going to kill myself trying to chase this guy.” When he went in the Hall of Fame, I asked him, it was the first time he ever talked to me, I said, “I never feared anybody. You’re the only guy that ever made me nervous.” He said, “I had to be that way.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because you made me nervous too.” That’s respect. VT