When SB Nation announced the Buick Human Highlight Reel campaign, spotlighting former players who exemplified excellence in all aspects of existence and not just athletics, I knew immediately which previous Georgia star would be the subject of our profile. With Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs set to resume practice this week and basketball season scheduled to begin 30 days hence, the only choice was the original "Human Highlight Film," Dominique Wilkins.
Wilkins signed with Hugh Durham’s Bulldogs in 1979 and spent three stellar seasons in the Classic City. While wearing the No. 21 jersey that would later be the first number retired by the men’s basketball team in Athens, Wilkins became Georgia’s all-time leading scorer, averaging 21.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He was thrice named All-SEC, twice named second-team All-American, and once named MVP of the SEC Tournament. Despite those accolades, though, Wilkins’s NCAA career ended with a question mark rather than an exclamation point: After guiding the Hoop Hounds to NIT berths in 1981 and 1982, Dominique headed to the NBA following his junior season . . . and his teammates proceeded to earn the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid, and make Georgia’s only Final Four run, without him, in what would have been Wilkins’s senior year.
It is one of the classic "What if?"s in sports; what if Georgia’s greatest basketball player had returned for the Bulldogs’ greatest basketball season? Dominique certainly made the most of his opportunities at the next level---he was a nine-time NBA All-Star and the league’s 1986 scoring champion, and he led the Atlanta Hawks to their greatest sustained success---but his achievements featured many "almost"s, from Georgia’s 1983 Tourney appearance to the two-point loss to the Boston Celtics in game seven of the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Perhaps it is the presence of significant near-misses in the midst of so many mountaintop accomplishments that drives Wilkins to take an active role in charitable work to aid the less fortunate, who must cope daily with the far more debilitating genetic and environmental near-misses of life. In addition to raising funds and awareness for cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, Wilkins has placed a special emphasis on the fight against diabetes. His leadership of the "Full-Court Press on Diabetes" led the General Assembly to recognize him with a 2010 resolution anointing him the Diabetes Ambassador for the state of Georgia.
Dominique Wilkins never played in an NCAA Tournament or brought an NBA championship to Atlanta, though he came tantalizingly close to doing both. He has, however, continued to remember his Peach State roots, and to give back to the community that admires and adores him. Remember that as you begin the countdown to the start of college basketball season, and as you prepare to root for the representatives of our state and our university, whose contributions to the community will extend far beyond the hardwood and the highlight reel.
To see the rest of the Buick Human Highlight Reel, go to www.NCAA.com/Buick.