If you’re a basketball fan, you know how rare superstars can be. Dominique Wilkins, formerly of the Atlanta Hawks, is one. Great players are more than just their stats and records, but there’s nothing like the excitement and triumph that comes with the crushing of an old record and the setting of a new one.
Thirty years ago, Dominique Wilkins became the new Atlanta Hawks leading scorer, a title he still holds. Whether it was before your time as a basketball fan or you remember it like it was yesterday, we’re turning the clock back to February 1993 to tell the story of that winter night. Read on to learn more about his record-breaking game, how he got there, and where he went next.
February 2, 1993: A Historic Day for the Atlanta Hawks
On February 2, 1993, the Atlanta Hawks played the Seattle SuperSonics. The Hawks had the home-court advantage, and change was brewing. Small forward Dominique Wilkins went into the game with a franchise scoring record of 20,851 points, less than 30 points behind the all-time record for points scored by a Hawks player in their time with the franchise.
Before that fateful night in February, Bob Pettit had held the Hawks’ franchise scoring record with a total of 20,880 points from 1954 to 1965. Pettit wasn’t just any player, either. One of the most decorated power forwards in NBA history, Pettit was the league’s first player to break 20,000 points. Eclipsing Pettit would be momentous, and, poised to do just that, Wilkins had a clear mission.
The Hawks had a narrow lead over the SuperSonics at the game’s beginning, finishing the first quarter with 31 points to Seattle’s 30. They kept a steady advantage in the next quarter, entering halftime on top with a score of 69-59. The Hawks remained ahead in the third quarter, which ended at 94-83. With six minutes and 20 seconds left in the game, Wilkins shot from the baseline. Well aware this could be the basket that shatters the record, the 10,000+ fans in the stands watched the ball fly from Wilkins’ hands into the air.
It landed in the basket, securing Wilkins his 31st point in the game. He went on to earn three more points before the final buzzer, bringing his game total to 34. The Hawks overcame the SuperSonics 118-109, and Dominique Wilkins led the Hawks’ franchise scoring record at 20,885 points.
A Record-Breaking Recovery
Wilkins’ record-shattering shot was a victory in isolation, but especially so when you consider where Wilkins was in his life and career when it happened. The game was almost exactly a year after he suffered an Achilles tendon tear just minutes into a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. On January 28, 1992, when he fell to the floor of the Omni in Atlanta, some thought it could end his career permanently. It ended his season, one in which he had the second-highest ranking with a 28.6 game point average.
To regain his strength after tearing his Achilles tendon, Wilkins trained twice per day for nine months. With drills, water therapy, strength training, and more, he returned to the court faster than anyone expected. Since his impressive rebound, other legendary players like Kobe Bryant used Wilkins’ recovery as a source of inspiration and guidance when facing injuries of their own.
Dominique Wilkins’ Career: How It Began
To better understand how Dominique Wilkins became the Atlanta Hawks’ leading scorer, let’s revisit his career from the beginning. Wilkins’ basketball career began at Washington High School in Washington, North Carolina. There, he led his team to win the Class 3-A State Championships twice back-to-back in 1978 and 1979. For his impressive performance in these games, the team named him MVP both years. Sports Illustrated even caught wind of Wilkins’ talent in his teen years, featuring him in their “Faces in the Crowd” section for his masterful performance against a team out of Washington’s class.
Wilkins even earned the nickname “Dr. Dunk” among basketball fans. By the time he neared his senior year, over 200 universities had their eyes on him, with representatives traveling to Wilkins’ small town in North Carolina for a chance at scouting him. Eventually, Wilkins committed to play ball with the Bulldogs of the University of Georgia in the fall of 1980.
Unsurprisingly, Wilkins quickly became a college basketball star. He earned an average of 21.6 points per game, making him the best shooter the University of Georgia had ever seen. He played with the All-SEC team all three of the years he attended the university, even taking home the Men’s Basketball Player of the Year award for his 1981 SEC performance. It was in college that Wilkins won the nickname “The Human Highlight Film,” which follows him to this day. So it’s probably no surprise that by his junior year, the big league was knocking on Wilkins’ door.
He left the University of Georgia to enter the 1982 NBA draft. A bona fide superstar after his three years of collegiate basketball success, he was a first-round pick. Wilkins would soon pack his bags and head westward to begin his career with the Utah Jazz — or so it would seem. Another team had their heart set on Dominique Wilkins: the Atlanta Hawks. That fall, Atlanta traded John Drew, Freeman Williams, and a hefty sum of cash to Utah in exchange for Wilkins.
This offer pleased Wilkins, too. The Jazz offered him a power forward position. He would’ve rather been a small forward. Plus, after four years as a Bulldog, he already had loyal fans and family in the area. This symbiotic deal cemented Wilkins’ role as a small forward for the Atlanta Hawks and began his 12-year career with the team.
Wilkins’ Years With the Atlanta Hawks
Wilkins brought the Hawks a series of victories in the mid-to-late ’80s. Perhaps the most impressive was a series of four consecutive 50-win seasons, a feat the team hadn’t seen prior to Wilkins’ arrival. He played on the 1983 All-Rookie Team. Still new to the league, he took home his first Slam-Dunk Championship in Indianapolis during the 1984-85 season. Famous for his signature windmill dunks, Dr. Dunk, now the Human Highlight Reel, gained some newfound attention.
In the coming years, Wilkins would move from rookie to star in the eyes of the NBA, sportswriters, and fans. In this 1985-86 season, he won the scoring title with the highest shooting average in the league at 30.3 average points per game. Just behind him were Adrian Dantley and Alex English. Ironically, Dantley represented the Utah Jazz, Wilkins’ almost-home. No longer a rookie, Wilkins earned a spot on the NBA All-Star Team that year. He’d end up playing as an All-Star for nine consecutive seasons.
In the 1986-87 season, Wilkins ranked second. He didn’t lose his top spot to just anybody, though. He was second to Michael Jordan, who edged him out again the following year. In the 1989-90 season, Wilkins reclaimed his throne as the Slam Dunk Contest champion. In November 1992, soon after returning from his Achilles tendon injury, Wilkins broke 20,000 career points. He was only the 17th player in history to surpass the milestone. In 1994, a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers broke Wilkins’ 11.5-year streak with the Hawks.
He spent the following season as a free agent for the Boston Celtics before venturing to Athens, Greece, to play with Panathinaikos. He adapted to the differences between the NBA and the EuroLeague, eventually taking home the 1996 Final Four MVP prize. Wilkins returned stateside to play for the San Antonio Spurs in the 1996-97 season, topping the team’s leaderboard. He headed back to Europe the next year to join Italy’s TeamSystem before finishing out his NBA career with a season with the Orlando Magic.
That 1998-99 season with the Magic was distinct for a few memorable reasons. First, it was Wilkins’ last season with the NBA after a storied career. Perhaps more uniquely, the season was a family affair. He joined his younger brother, Gerald Wilkins, who was also in his last season with the Magic.
Dominique Wilkins’ Legacy
In 2001, the Atlanta Hawks honored Dominique Wilkins with a special half-time ceremony as they retired his jersey number, No. 21, in celebration of his time with the team. After retiring as a player, Wilkins returned to his NBA roots with the Atlanta Hawks. This time he took on a managerial role, serving as the team’s Vice President of Basketball. In 2015, the Hawks once again paid tribute to Wilkins’ historic contributions to the team with a statue of him that sits outside State Farm Arena. He continues to comment on Hawks games for Bally Sports.
Outside of the world of professional basketball, Wilkins has a variety of business and philanthropy ventures. He worked with 24 Hour Fitness to develop a basketball training center, he’s appeared in commercials, and he sells his own label of fine wines. Wilkins also supports organizations promoting diabetes research to support family members who suffered from the condition.
Dominique Wilkins has gone down in NBA history, and that February evening in 1993 is one key reason. Whether Wilkins is an old favorite or you’re new to his legacy, Fanatics has all the gear to show your support. From retro jerseys to sports collectibles and memorabilia, commemorate the anniversary of his legendary record with the Hawks with officially licensed sports apparel and more from Fanatics.