Week of honors makes ‘Nique feel a little weak

The Hawks gave Dominique Wilkins the night off Friday, but he’s worked so hard that he may have to take another.

One day after a private unveiling outside of Philips Arena of a 13 1/2-foot bronze statue of the leading scorer in franchise history, the celebration of the “Human Highlight Film” went public. All this commotion has worn the man out.

When given a chance to speak at halftime while spotlighted in an otherwise dark arena, Wilkins — who scored 23,292 of his 26,668 NBA points while in an Atlanta uniform like those worn by current players Friday in his honor — first cried.

Then, the Hawks’ current TV broadcaster – whose chair next to Bob Rathbun Friday was filled by former Hawk Mike Glenn as Wilkins sat among fans with his wife, said to the crowd, “It’s really hard to put in words how I feel right now.

“For three decades, three decades, you, the fans, have supported me, made me the man I am today … I’m not from Atlanta, but I’m from Atlanta.”

After halftime festivities, where Wilkins was presented with artwork of himself and one of his jerseys signed by current Hawks players, the man spoke as if he’d just played four overtimes.

“It’s been a heck of a week,” said the nine-time NBA All-Star. “The fans … I think actually they’ve treated me even better since I retired probably because I’ve never forgotten, never left. I was going to go with the team to Philly [Friday] night, but I just physically can’t do it.”

Wilkins has served the organization in several capacities since 2000, notably as the team's television color commentator. He makes frequent public appearances on behalf of the team, and believes the statue – just the 12th honoring an NBA player – is both an immortalization of him and a launching point for his much-maligned former and present employer.

“You talk about the history of our franchise, which to me is forgotten,” he said after the halftime festivities. “I think this statue represents change … we can build on that history, and give our kids iconic figures, not just myself … to emulate.”

The gravity of a deep week settled upon the 6-foot-8 former forward Friday as he approached Philips before the game.

In seeing a section of Centennial Olympic Park Drive renamed Dominique Wilkins Lane by decree of mayor Kasim Reed, and then a big bronze likeness of No. 21 frozen in flight and loading for an epic windmill dunk, Wilkins froze in the flesh.

“Coming in on the Fox bus I saw a street … and that’s when it hit me,” he recalled for reporters. “Coming up to the statue, ‘I’m going to be here forever.’ That’s when it hit me, and I had a very emotional moment.”

Wilkins, who grew up in Washington, N.C., before playing three seasons at the University of Georgia prior to his NBA career, is often embraced by fans as much for what he did on the court as for his approachable personality.

An absence of ego and lack of pretense was obvious even at post-ceremony press conference when he belted out, “Hey everybody,” as entered the room.

Immortalized on the south side of Philips, he might spend some time with himself rather than working Saturday night. Wilkins is quite fond of the work of Brian Hanlon, the official sculptor of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame — where the former Hawk was enshrined in 2006.

He has a work release in mind.

“I’m just mentally and emotionally drained so what I did … I put a lawn chair in the back of my car, and I’m going to sit out in front of the statue all night,” he said to reporters. “I’m a pretty strong guy, but everybody has weak spots. This week has been a weak spot.”