Erving says Hawks should do better job embracing their history

Julius Erving said the Hawks should do a better job of embracing its heroes, like Dominique Wilkins. (Getty Images)

Julius Erving said the Hawks should do a better job of embracing its heroes, like Dominique Wilkins. (Getty Images)

Julius Erving said the Hawks should do a better job of embracing its heroes, like Dominique Wilkins. (Getty Images)

Before evolving into a team with the NBA’s best record — and I still can’t type that without my fingers going into spasms — the Hawks were punchline central. But it seemed appropriate Thursday that when a statue honoring Dominique Wilkins was unveiled, one of the league’s greatest icons took a little shot at the franchise for not fulfilling embracing the part of its history long worth celebrating.

“This is a change agent for the franchise,” Julius Erving said. “This is something that will open the door for Pete Maravich, Lou Hudson, Walt Bellamy, Dan Roundfield, as well as the alumni who live in this city. Because a lot of those people live in this city. I think the organization might have neglected them. They took them for granted.”

He’s right. We tend to live in the moment in sports. And when there are so many bad moments in a franchise, so many bumbling general managers and polarizing players, we forget the times created by individuals that are worth bottling and putting on a shelf to occasionally admire.

Or in this, casting in bronze.

Wilkins speaks after his statue was unveiled at Philips Arena on Thursday. (Hyosub Shin, AJC).

Wilkins speaks after his statue was unveiled at Philips Arena on Thursday. (Hyosub Shin, AJC).

Erving, a close friend of Wilkins and the last speaker before the guest of honor stepped on stage at star-filled luncheon at Philips Arena, said the Hawks, “have to take more of a family approach. Just because your family gets a little older or maybe moves out of the house doesn’t mean they stop being your family. If you don’t pay attention to history, it will come back and bite you.”

What matters’ most: Wilkins’ greatness and lasting impact is being recognized now. A 13½-foot tall statue depicting the Hall of Famer gliding through the air and winding up for a dunk was unveiled on the arena floor.

Among those in attendance and/or giving tributes (live or via video): Erving, Larry Bird (via video), Clyde Drexler, Bernard King, Charles Barkley, Kevin Willis, Karl Malone, Dikembe Mutombo, Detlef Schrempf (video), Mike Fratello and NBA commissioner Adam Silver, as well as the entire Hawks’ teams.

Also, the Wilkins-preferred part of the ownership group. More on that shortly.

Wilkins said he preferred to “save my thank you’s” for fans at ceremonies planned for halftime of Friday’s game between the Hawks and Cleveland. But after pushing a button to raise the drape that was over the statue, he seemed to choke up for a moment.

“This is a surreal moment for me,” he said.

Then he told a story about growing up poor in the projects in Baltimore and coming home to find his mother crying, who told him she didn’t have any food for dinner.

“I told her, ‘Don’t cry any more because one day I’m going to make you rich,’” Wilkins said. “The proudest moment of my life was when I bought my mother her first house.”

Atlanta hasn’t had many sports heroes. Some, like Erving, may believe Wilkins was overdue to be celebrated. But at least this comes at a time when the current team has captured the city’s attention to this extent for the first time since the Wilkins’ era in the 1980s.

Wilkins isn’t getting merely a statue. A long stretch of Centennial Olympic Park Drive, from Marietta St. to Martin Luther King Drive, is being renamed, “Dominique Wilkins Lane.” Celebrations will go on. The statue will find a permanent home outside of Philips Arena, by the “Atlanta” sign.

Fratello, the former Hawks’ coach, said Wilkins “never asked for a day off.”

Willis, a former teammate, said he plans to “hug the statue,” adding, “We didn’t win a championship but we won the heart of Atlanta fans.”

Bird provided a typically jabbing humorous moment during his video tribute: “Congratulations on getting a statue. I‘m pretty sure it wasn’t made with you in a defensive stance.”

Gerald Wilkins claimed to be the first to spot his brother’s talent. He told a story about eight kids sleeping in a room and spotting a roach on the wall.

“I said, ‘Nique, they’re coming to get me,'” Gerald said. “He jumped up and ‘Bap!’ The roach fell on the floor. I said to myself, ‘That boy is going to be something.'”

Wilkins thanked several individuals, including three of the franchise’s owners: Michael Gearon Jr. and Sr. and Rutherford Seydel. There was no mention of controlling owner Bruce Levenson, who’s been excommunicated since his race-infused email that precipitated the franchise being put up for sale. There was no mentioned of his partners, Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman.

Atlanta businessman Tommy Dortch, the driving force behind the statue, also mentioned the Gearons and Seydel, but not the others.

Also absent, both physically and by mention: Danny Ferry, the Hawks’ general manager (still, although in purgatory and with an uncertain future). Wilkins hasn’t publicly supported Ferry’s return and believes Ferry didn’t back the push for the statue.

Wilkins did manage to praise the Hawks’ players and coach Mike Budenholzer, saying, “Coach Budenholzer is the orchestrator of what’s going on here.”

Read into that what you will.

Fortunately, however, the executive spitball fight was a minor part of the event.

“We talk about being immortalized in your life,” Wilkins said on stage. “What bigger stage to stand on than to have a statue of you in front of the franchise and building that you love? I know nobody who loves this organization like I do.”

The love now has been returned, in bronze.

Some recent ramblings from the digital jukebox
— MyAJC: Hank Aaron knows exactly how Dominique Wilkins feels
— MyAJC: Despite loss, Fox has Georgia pointed in right direction
— AJC: Mark Fox deserved contract extension (which he finally signed)
— AJC: Falcons, Ndamukong Suh and waiting on fake noise penalty
— AJC: Falcons’ payroll slash continues — Blalock, Douglas released
— AJC: Steven Jackson expected to be missing piece, but he wasn’t
— MyAJC: Can Kevin Seitzer avoid being Braves’ next scapegoat
— AJC: Freeman on ’14 roster: Heyward leading off not well-constructed lineup
— MyAJC: By any name, Braves need a different Upton
— AJC: How long should Braves give Upton to show improvement?
— MyAJC: Braves have issues but McDowell not one of them
— AJC: I still can’t talk to Roger McDowell without thinking of ‘The Second Spitter’
— AJC: Poll: Are expectations for Braves too low, high or about right?
— MyAJC: Will Gonzalez be given some latitude during Braves’ rebuilding?
— MyAJC: Falcons’ roster gutting could have big names
— AJC: Data show Falcons got least (10-22) from most ($279.3 million)
— MyAJC: Georgia shows why we still can’t assume success
— AJC: Are Hawks getting Ray Allen? Odds site makes them favorite
— MyAJC: Private agendas still at play in Hawks’ offices
— AJC: Tiger Woods seems in danger of missing Masters (again)
— AJC: Trade likely means Hawks are planning for something
— MyAJC: Kyle Shanahan, the coach’s son, has absorbed a lot of jabs
— AJC: Greg Hardy skates (and is he worth the risk for Falcons)?
— MyAJC: Hawks’ deadline move wouldn’t hurt chemistry
— AJC: Tech doing just fine, recruiting rankings notwithstanding
— MyAJC: Dan Quinn’s ascent to top job was years in making
— AJC: Forget trade talk — Dan Quinn wants Julio Jones on his team

Reader Comments 0

43 comments
A-pride
A-pride

U tell'em Dr. J...The Hawks are my team but this franchise has been so disgraceful, its not even funny!!!

WW5
WW5

when does koncak get his statue??

TaxiSmith
TaxiSmith

Not ernough to be a millionaire, eh?

Dirtyb8
Dirtyb8

Fans should boycott games next season if they refuse to bring Ferry back. FREE DAN FERRY!!

etherdome
etherdome

Let's not forget Lou Hudson.  Maravich was a lot of fun to watch and Bellamy was a tough SOB.  


Erving is right, the Hawks neglect their history.  

KBP
KBP

Dominique slighted Ferry by giving Coach Bud sole credit for this team.  Ferry hired Budenholzer. Enough said. Not sure how much say so Coach Bud had with acquiring the players but this success does not happen without Ferry. 


I doubt Ferry is anywhere close to being racist and I hope he keeps his job but it was an EPIC FAIL to oppose the statue for Dominique. Nique is by far the greatest Hawk ever and to top it off, he is a Hall of Famer which makes him one of the greatest players ever. For this particular franchise that has no championship pedigree whatsoever, not even a conference final appearance, but has an all-time great player, then support the statue, Danny Ferry.

hawksman
hawksman

@KBP Arguably, the greatest Hawk ever was Bob Petit.  He averaged 26 points and 16 rebounds per game over his entire career, was a two-time league mvp and won an NBA Championship with the Hawks.

devounknown1000
devounknown1000

Nique rank #46 is a travesty in sports.


Nigue Easley should be a to 25player of all time.


GO HAWKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



devounknown1000
devounknown1000

Greatest Hawks ever congratulation Nique.


GO NIQUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

AstroJoe
AstroJoe

The Deng report was the tool used to push Ferry out the door, but it appears it was Ferry's dismissal of the Hawks' history (and Dominique's legacy specifically) that created an in-house wedge between the Atlanta owners & their remote partners.  I heard a lot of talk about "history"  and "culture change"in the presentations and I don't think that is a coincidence.   Ferry obviously never attended a Change Management class, as embracing an organization's past history is a very effective way to get buy-in for making change.  Imagine if the Spurs did not embrace George Gervin as Pop and Buford took over that franchise.

oldschoolball
oldschoolball

Lou Hudson, John Drew, and Dominique Wilkins all had same thing in common : ball hogs and played no defense!

seminoleking
seminoleking

@oldschoolball even red auerbach said that was a lie about nique. nique played excellent defense, particularly his rookie year. it was a conscious decision by fratello to tell nique to carry the hawks offense, which overshadowed the fact that nique was a good defender.......

Dman
Dman

Dom-o Nique, Man-u Fique!!!!

Wrecker
Wrecker

The idea that Atlanta has not "embraced" its NBA history is bunk.  Dominique is almost universally loved in Atlanta, despite his flaws.  Other Hawks' players hold a special place in fans' hearts.  Spud Webb, Tree Rollins, and even Kevin Willis are still adored.

atlfanman
atlfanman

@DawgnIT Outstanding! Really love your comments regarding Dale Murphy. Still your last statement says it all.

DawgnIT
DawgnIT

@Wrecker And yet you didn't mention Pete Maravich, Lou Hudson, Walt Bellamy, or Dan Roundfield which were the players Dr J was referring to with that comment.

Atlanta celebrates the 87-88 team.


But it's understandable because we've been told for too long that Atlanta is an awful sports city without enough championships to the point that many here are reluctant to pump up the great athletes in this city's history without a record or some great nationally recognized individual accomplishment. 

For example, Chipper Jones wasn't even promoted outside of Braves Country like he should have been until the very end with his retirement tour.  Many younger fans (Under 30-35) don't appreciate Dale Murphy because he gets the same treatment as Dominique.  Both are considered great offensive players who excited fans but couldn't "win" as if they played individual sports like golf or tennis.  I guess it doesn't matter than Murphy was a 2 time MVP and won several gold glove awards to go along with his 7 all-star appearances and 4 silver sluggers.  Considering the relative talent around them, I still think Murphy was every bit as good as Chipper.  Chipper has the switch hitting batting average and longevity but Murphy's overall impact was greater.

Even nationally recognized Atlanta athletes get bashed locally, see Deion Sanders.  Instead of celebrating the incredible athlete he was for both the Falcons and Braves, a lot of people prefer to focus on being turned off by his tendency to have fun playing sports and smiling all the time.  You even mentioned Nique's flaws as if there are perfect athletes all over the place.

We could do a better job of embracing our athletes rather waiting for ESPN and the national media to do it with obvious choices like Maddox, Glavine, and Smoltz. 

etherdome
etherdome

@Wrecker Yes, by fans, but the organization has done very little to honor some truly great players.  

etherdome
etherdome

@DawgnIT @Wrecker Not to mention Rico Carty, Joe Torre, Ralph Garr, Crime Dog, Bill Fralic, William Andrews, Steve Bartkowski, Tommy Nobis and Claude Humphrey......just to name a few.  

Sloan
Sloan

I too lived in Atlanta and worked downtown during the prime Nique years from 1987 - 1991. I had season tickets and loved watching those games. Dominique was truly one of the 5 best players in the league at the time and that was quite a list of all-time greats. I am very happy that the Hawks organization has finally given him the recognition that he has richly deserved for so long. The NBA still owes him an apology though for leaving him off of the NBA's 50 greatest list back in the early 90's. The fact the Pippen was on it and Nique wasn't is a sham and a travesty.

But Nique is wrong if he doesn't think Danny Ferry should be credited for the building of the current Hawks team and its success tis season.

etherdome
etherdome

@Sloan After an apology, I would invite Danny Ferry back with open arms.  

slivin500
slivin500

I lived in the ATL during Niques heyday and would often run into him all I will say is this, what a nice and humble guy. I'm very glad that this honor was bestowed upon him well deserved

TreeRollins
TreeRollins

Interestesting he bought his mom a house but was always being chased by the judicial system for not paying child support for the 7 or 8 kids he was famous for having outside of wedlock.  I guess he chose his priorities.  Just like choosing his offense and dunking over playing defense and passing.  Yes, he was a talented man that did what he wanted and ignored the rest.


Bird was only partly kidding about the defensive pose thing.  Glad he was honest enough to make note of it because it was obvious to everyone in Atlanta that you couldn't get that guy to run back on defense and try and stop the other team.  He always just stayed at halfcourt yelling "throw me the ball".

RangeRover
RangeRover

@TreeRollins

Pretty much sums it up!

It never ceases to amaze me how AJC Sportswriters immortalize certain athletes while ignoring their horrid transgressions.  I guess this is what keeps their paychecks coming.

atlfanman
atlfanman

@TreeRollins  Well Bird wasn't a defensive ace either. In the legendary game seven at the Garden, it was McHale who guarded Dominique and not Bird. The same McHale who was on the All-Defensive team that year.


You make a good point about his defense and passing.

atlfanman
atlfanman

Long overdue but could not have picked a better time to honor Nique. Erving makes a great point about embracing history.

BravesFan79
BravesFan79

Id rather see Pete Babsuckacock get punched in the face by Nique than see a new statue.    

MaybeMaybeNot
MaybeMaybeNot

" Just because your family gets a little older or maybe moves out of the house doesn’t mean they stop being your family."  ------ Julius Erving



This coming from a guy, Julius Erving, who had a daughter out of wedlock, star tennis player Alexandra Stevenson that he initially denied was his and then wanted nothing to do with for many years.  Such a great family guy, that Dr. J.

Wrecker
Wrecker

@MaybeMaybeNot Seriously.  I hate to add to the negativity on a message board honoring Atlanta's greatest NBA player, but Erving needs to get his own house in order before criticizing Atlanta.  

Jerry916
Jerry916

@MaybeMaybeNot Sometimes you focus on the message, and not the messenger.  Just because someone makes a statement that they have not always adhered to, does not invalidate the statement.  We have to learn from others (mistakes and all) and not try to experience everything for ourselves.  If you stink your hand in fire, and tell me it's hot, I'll take your word for it.

etherdome
etherdome

@MaybeMaybeNot

Just curious, do you even know the details of what happened?  Or, are you just happy to throw stones?

patriotdog
patriotdog

My gut tells me that the Hawks' ownership issue is going to be resolved in a horrible fashion.

-sting-
-sting-

@patriotdog what hasn't been done horribly by this group?


the mikeys are right up there as the main agents of the fiasco. the atl mafia.


enjoy this year because it is all over when df leaves.


hawks gone from the city if new ownes are smart and get rid of the politics in sports.

patriotdog
patriotdog

Dominique was a tremendously gifted player and a seemingly good guy. I also think he's extremely gullible and has been taken in by the Gearon's lies. Coach Bud is a fantastic coach, but make no mistake, Ferrry "orchestrated what is going on here" by hiring Budenholzer, and building a roster by trading three anchor contracts and getting value in return.The Millsap for Smoove trade alone should put Ferry in the Hall of Fame.

-sting-
-sting-

@patriotdog definitely think mikey had a play in the stupid jj contract because he wanted to fool the masses into thinking, if you paid superstar salaries you had one. df blew up what mikey did and made it better. ultimately that was his crime.


df and his abilities also cranked up the worth of this franchise. go figure.

Wilbo
Wilbo

My mom could make a statue that looks more like Dominique and she'd be over 100 if she hadn't been dead for 23 years.

HistoryofMatt
HistoryofMatt

Knowing that Wilkins backs the terrible, vile, and vomitous Gearons in Hawks ownership just about ruins this entire moment.


He's on the wrong side of history and honestly, I expect better.

JackClemens
JackClemens

@HistoryofMatt Amen, brother. They are the ones who tried to tear what Danny Ferry has built down. The Gearons are garbage.

BIll4444
BIll4444

Loooooong overdue. 'Nique was always an underrated overall player and a class act. HAwks should have done this a long time ago.

Lee Golden
Lee Golden

  Dr. J is right, the Hawks should embrace their history, and it is one to be proud of.  The franchise is one of the first to relocate/be established in the Southeast, and from Pistol Pete to Dominique, a lot of NBA legends have played here.  Separating the Hawks from the odious Atlanta Spirit Group, Atlanta has a lot to be proud of, and Wilkins deserves all the accolades he gets.

  I blame a lot of the lack of franchise pride on David Stern and his NBA machine.  He crafted the notion of a superstar arena league, and was just fine with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird drawing fans to the arenas, instead of having each team promote its own fan base.   It was a short term strategy that hasn't worked in the long run.  And no other league did that.