One of eight children, Jacques Dominique Wilkins was born in Paris, France, on Jan. 12, 1960 (his French babysitter picked his name). His father, an Army man, was transferred back to America when Wilkins was 3, and after stops in Dallas and Fort Sill, Okla., the family settled in Baltimore. “If you want to shoot it, you have to get your hands on it,” Wilkins said of basketball contests on the city’s playgrounds. “So I started going up and getting it. I think it really helped that I was always playing with guys older than me. They'd tell me I was going to be a pro someday, but I never believed them. I really didn't.”
The summer before he was to enter 10th grade at Baltimore’s Patterson High, Wilkins visited his grandmother in Washington, N.C. During his stay Wilkins’ skills caught the attention of Dave Smith, the basketball coach at local Washington High. Impressed, Smith successfully convinced Wilkins to stay in Washington. The teenager’s parents, divorced by this time, also moved there. As a senior, Wilkins averaged 29 points and 16 rebounds a game and led Washington to its second consecutive state championship. Many colleges were naturally interested in him, but North Carolina State seemed to have the edge. When Wilkins chose to attend Georgia, some Washington residents vented their frustration by breaking windows in his mother's house and spilling paint on the car they charged that Georgia officials had bought for her. Wilkins’ mother said her son’s celebrity had allowed her to buy the car cheaply at a Washington dealership.
“Before (head coach Hugh) Durham and Wilkins, basketball at Georgia was something of a joke,” Jack McCallum wrote in a November 1981 Sports Illustrated article. But no one was laughing when Wilkins stepped onto the court. One statistic shows how important he was to the Bulldogs. Georgia was 11-3 when Wilkins sprained his knee during a contest against Alabama in his freshman year and was forced to miss the next six games. With Wilkins either on the bench or playing hurt the rest of the season, Georgia lost 10 of 13 games. Wilkins was healthy for all of his sophomore year in1980-81, and Georgia finished 19-12, its best record in 50 years.
The Utah Jazz chose Wilkins with the third overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft, but he refused to sign with Utah and that September was sent to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for John Drew, Freeman Williams and cash. Wilkins averaged 17.5 points per game in his first year and was named to the 1983 All-NBA Rookie Team. His second year was the first of 11 consecutive seasons in which he averaged more than 20 points a game. In 1985, he demonstrated why he was nicknamed the “Human Highlight Film” by winning the first of his two NBA Slam-Dunk Championships. 1986 was the year Wilkins won the scoring title, made the first of his nine consecutive All-Star appearances and was named to the All-NBA First Team. The Hawks enjoyed success as well, winning 50 games every season from 1985-86 to 1988-89. Wilkins earned a new level of respect for his performance against Larry Bird in the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals, but the Boston Celtics defeated the Hawks by two points in Game Seven to take the series.
While his team’s glory days were over by the early 1990s, Wilkins continued to shine. In 1990-91, he averaged 9.0 rebounds and more than three assists per game, both career highs. A ruptured Achilles tendon forced Wilkins to miss the second half of the 1991-92 season, but he rallied back the following year to finish second in the league in scoring and become the 17th player in NBA history to score 20,000 points. But the end of Wilkins' time in Atlanta was fast approaching. The Hawks stunned their fans by trading Wilkins and a first-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Danny Manning in February 1994.
Wilkins finished the 1993-94 season with the Clippers, and then signed as a free agent with the Boston Celtics. After one season in Boston, Wilkins signed with Panathinaikos Athens of the Greek League in the summer of 1995. The move finally brought him a title; he led Panathinaikos to the European Championship for Men's Clubs in 1996 and was named the Most Valuable Player of the European Final Four. He signed with the San Antonio Spurs before the 1996-97 season and led the team in scoring with 18.2 points per game. Despite his success with the Spurs, Wilkins signed a contract to play for Teamsystem in Italy for the 1997-98 season. He joined his brother Gerald when he signed with the Orlando Magic in February 1999 but played only 26 games before retiring. Wilkins was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September 2006.