Mon Sep 20 02:40pm EDT
For the next few weeks, I'm going to pick an NBA-related subject, A-through-Z, and tell you why it's worth your time, and why it's one of the reasons I love covering this league.
Because that's why I wanted to become a scribe who's paid to cover this league. Sharing the things I know and love with those of my kind. All that stuff.
Because I'm lucky enough to have your ear for however long, I don't care that this might come off as a bit twee.
A little embarrassing. A little too forthright. I'm OK with that.
Hopefully you are, as well.
"G" is for "Gerald Wilkins."
Just try to think about Gerald Wilkins without smiling.
This post doesn't sway easily. He's not a misunderstood genius, and he's not some of-his-time laugh factory. He's just right down the middle, that Gerald Wilkins, interesting in all aspects. Sure, you can point out things to giggle about - Gerald Wilkins is probably the most 1989 player of all time - but that'd be missing the point.
Want me to go the plucky overachiever route? Sure. Let's walk together.
The man came into the league as the younger brother of an established star. An older brother in Dominque that was, somehow, still taller and more athletic than the younger brother who should have been a few inches on (both in terms of height, and vertical) due to the usual in-family evolutionary practices. And yet, there Gerald was, topping out at 6-6. Maybe.
With the Knicks, too, and playing a whole bunch - starting the overwhelming majority of his games during his seven seasons with the team. And yet, while it should have been Dominique toiling in obscurity down in Atlanta while Gerald worked in the Big Apple with the center of the future, those Hawks had a SuperStation of their own. And all those playoff appearances, on Ted Turner's other networks. And CBS, to boot.
And the dunk contests, too, where Gerald could barely sniff the semifinals, while Dominque often dominated. It really made no sense. Older brother, in Atlanta, and he's the star?
But Dougie soldiered on. His PER never moved far past 16 in a season, he never averaged 20 points per game, but ...
(Yes, "Dougie." After Doug E. Fresh. I remember reading this article when I was a kid, and outside of the world of print, I don't think I've ever referred to Wilkins as anything else.)
He managed a double-figure scoring life in the NBA, which is a life well worth living. He was known as a defensive demon, in stark contrast to Dominque's less-earnest efforts on that end, and he was a significant part of some very, very good teams. And the 1995-96 Vancouver Grizzlies. He played NBA basketball, for a living, in Vancouver. Only - what? - 80 or 90 guys can say that.
But because he was the most 1989 player ever - and not the most 1998 player, or 1984 player ever - Dougie's a little looked over. One of the first supposed "Jordan stoppers," the Cavaliers signed him before 1992-93 only to have Jordan nail a game-winner over Wilkins in Game 4 of the 1993 Conference semis. Everything about Michael Jordan has been done to death, in myriad formats by now; but this clip isn't even available on YouTube in non-videogame form.
The whole package, though? The hair and the Doug E. Fresh and the bicycle shorts and the Pitino-era Knicks association and that Jordan shot and the dunk contests and the Grizzlies and post-Shaquille Magic ... and the brotherhood? That's a collection worth remembering.
To work it like Hubie Brown, Wilkins' first NBA coach, it's because you have a guy out of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, of all places, working in the NBA for 12 years, coming through with double-figure scoring, low turnovers, few fouls, great defense, and bicycle shorts.
These are things worth remembering. It's not easy to step out of the shadow of a giant, working at the same time as you but to greater professional satisfaction (both individually, and in a team-orientated sense). But Wilkins - Dougie - somehow made himself memorable as a result of his personality, his era, and his game. That's a man, for you.