The "Human Highlight Film" and Hawks' great spoke to young basketball players about his battle with diabetes on Sunday in Marietta.
Photo: Mitchell Northam/AJC
Photo: Mitchell Northam/AJC

Dominique Wilkins talks to young players in Cobb about diabetes

There are at least two things Dominique Wilkins knows more about than most people.

Dunking is the first one. Wilkins earned the nickname "Human Highlight Film" for his ferocious and flashy rim rattlers over a 14-year pro basketball career. It's one of the reasons he was at Wheeler High School in Marietta on Sunday; he judged the dunk contest at the second annual Underclassmen All-American Game.

The second topic Wilkins is greatly informed on is diabetes. His father and grandfather both had Type 1, and the former Atlanta Hawks star is a Type 2 diabetic.

Wilkins has been working with Novo Nordisk and Victoza to spread awareness about the disease and to encourage younger folks to exercise often and watch their diet to prevent diabetes. At halftime of the games at Wheeler, Wilkins took some time to talk to the players about proper nutrition and health.

“I’m trying to tell these kids, you have to have physical activity and eat the best that you can now, so you don’t have these problems later in life,” said Wilkins, who is now the Vice President of Basketball for the Atlanta Hawks. “You want to have some preventive measures, so you don’t have to go through the things that your parents or grandparents went through.”

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Wilkins was a nine-time all-star, finished in the top five of MVP voting three times, was a scoring champ in 1986 and won the NBA’s dunk contest twice. He is a Hall of Famer, and many consider him to be the best in-game dunker of all time.

As a player, Wilkins never worried about his health too much. If he could still run, dribble, shoot and jump, he figured he was okay.

But in 2000 he found himself in a doctor’s office after a routine check-up.

“I was eating pretty badly after I retired and I didn’t work out very much,” said Wilkins, who stepped away from the NBA after spending the 1998-99 season with the Orlando Magic. “I was having blurred vision – and I thought it was just me getting old, so I started wearing glasses – but come to find out, the doctor said, ‘Look, the good news is you’re not dying, but the bad news is you’re a diabetic and you must have a lifestyle change right now.’ ”

Wilkins was frightened and shocked. His grandfather and father had both died from diabetes, but he thought it would never happen to him because he was an active athlete.

Still, he had been given a wake-up call. Wilkins attacked diabetes as if it were a rim waiting to be jammed on.

He immediately began to work out more and he drastically changed his diet. Wilkins says he lost 34 pounds over the two months after he found out he had diabetes, and as a Type 2 diabetic, he had to take medication too.

“I treat it very aggressively,” Wilkins said. “There is no cure for diabetes right now. The cure is management. So, if you manage it correctly, you can live healthy like everyone else. I look at it as a blessing because it makes me look at my health a lot differently than I used to.”

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Wilkins was a nine-time NBA all-star and had his number retired by the Atlanta Hawks.
Photo: File

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Since his diet change, Wilkins said the foods he misses the most are pies.

“Apple pies, pecan pies, all the bad stuff,” he said. “I haven’t drank orange juice in 17 years. I missed that at first, but not anymore. Every now and then I might have a slice of apple or pecan, I just can’t have the whole pie.”

He’s able to stay away from those temptations with the support of his “Dream Team.”

“What is your Dream Team? It’s your doctor, your trainer, your wife or husband, your kids. It’s everyone working together to keep you healthy,” Wilkins said. “It’s about building a support system.”

Wilkins urges those battling diabetes to visit for help.

Before the games at Wheeler started on Sunday, a promoter walked up to Wilkins and handed him a Bai, a bottle of antioxidant-infused water.

The first thing he did was flip the bottle around and look at the label. He asked, "How much sugar this thing got in it?"

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