Hawks honor Hall of Famer Wilkins by unveiling statue

ATLANTA (AP) Dominique Wilkins said his statue unveiled by the Atlanta Hawks means ”we have history here now.”

The granite sculpture unveiled on Thursday, which stands 13 1/2 feet tall and weighs 18,500 pounds, captures Wilkins taking off for a dunk, holding the ball in his right hand.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called Wilkins ”one of the most entertaining players” in NBA history.

”This statue stands for so much more than just your accomplishments on the court,” Silver said. ”It’s a symbol of the fabric of the community that you’ve become and all that you’ve accomplished on and off the court.”

Wilkins played for the Hawks in his first 12 NBA seasons. He also played for the Los Angeles Clippers, Boston, San Antonio and Orlando in his final four seasons but said his heart never left Atlanta.

”Nobody loves this organization more than I love it,” Wilkins said. ”I bleed and breathe Hawks. Even when I played for other teams I felt funny, because I was a Hawk.”

The art was created by Brian Hanlon, the official sculptor of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Current and former Hawks players, and former Atlanta coach Mike Fratello, attended the private ceremony at Philips Arena. Wilkins applauded the work of coach Mike Budenholzer for directing the Hawks to the NBA’s best record.

Also attending were such NBA legends as Julius Erving, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler and Wilkins brother, Gerald Wilkins, also a former NBA player.

”With this statue, Dominique takes his rightful place as a legend of the game,” Drexler said.

There were also video tributes, including one from Larry Bird, who took a playful jab at Wilkins by saying ”Congratulations on that statue. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t made with you in a defensive stance.”

Erving said as he neared the end of his career he looked at such players as Wilkins as proof of the NBA’s growth.

”I started to think is the game in better shape than it was before I got here and did I have anything to do with that, and the answer was yes,” Erving said. ”I felt very proud that the game was in good shape and it was in the hands of guys like Dominique Wilkins.”

Wilkins spoke of the struggles of his mother, Gertrude, who raised eight children.

”I’m just so happy she’s still here to see this moment,” he said.

Wilkins’ coach at the University of Georgia, Hugh Durham, also attended the ceremony.

The statue will be moved to its permanent home outside the arena before Friday night’s game against Cleveland.

”The statue stands for change in this city and this franchise,” Wilkins said. ”It stands for history.”

Wilkins, a nine-time All-Star whose nickname was ”Human Highlight Film,” was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. He is a vice president of the team and an analyst on Hawks TV broadcasts.

”Dominique Wilkins has meant so much to us,” said Hawks chief executive officer and co-owner Steve Koonin. ”The celebration with the gift of the statue is our gift back to you.”

Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed announced a portion of a street near the arena would be renamed Dominique Wilkins Lane.

Wilkins’ No. 21 has been retired by the Hawks. The only other Hawks players to have their numbers retired are Bob Pettit (9) and Lou Hudson (23).