North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.
Wilkins was known as the “Human Highlight Film” because of his athleticism and extraordinary dunking ability, but his journey to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame began at an early age when he appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” feature while still a student at Washington High School. He earned attention for a performance in which he recorded 48 points, 27 rebounds, nine dunks and eight blocked shots in a single game.
After leading the Pam Pack to consecutive 3A state championships in 1978-79 and starring in the McDonald’s All-American Game, Wilkins went on to a standout three-year career at the University of Georgia — averaging better than 21 points per game and winning SEC Player of the Year honors in his final season before entering the NBA Draft.
The 6-foot-8 forward was picked third overall by the Utah Jazz and subsequently traded to the Atlanta Hawks, and he made an immediate impact by earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie team in 1983. He went on to make nine straight All-Star Games, win the league scoring title and is one of only 12 players in history to score more than 25,000 career points on his way to becoming Atlanta’s all-time leader in both scoring and steals.
He also won two NBA Slam Dunk contests, though if you ask him, it should have been three — not that he’s bitter over losing a controversial decision to Michael Jordan in 1988.
“This is the thing I tell people: Does Michael think he won? Yes,” Wilkins said in an interview with HoopsHype.com in 2018. “Do I think I won? Yes. But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who won because the fans got their money’s worth.”
Wilkins’ most memorable performance came in Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston when he and the Celtics’ Larry Bird engaged in an epic individual battle. Wilkins scored 47 points while Bird had 20 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter to lead his team to a 118-116 win.