Bird had respect for Nique’s game
When it comes to the NBA in the 80’s one of the biggest underrated rivalries was the one between the Atlanta Hawks and the Boston Celtics in the eastern conference. The two leaders of their respective teams were Dominique Wilkins and Larry Bird, who had numerous great battles with each other in which, for the most part, Bird and the Celtics came out as winners.
However, that didn’t stop Bird from paying respect for his rival Dominique, and in his autobiography ‘Drive’ talks about what made Nique such a great player that was always a tough matchup. Wilkins came into the NBA in 1983, and ever since then, Bird saw the kid has a lot of talent and was able to see him elevate his game as years went by when he reached the All-Star level.
“I first discovered what he was made of in 1983. He was a rookie and was thought of exclusively as an offensive player, but in our three-game miniseries, he did a good job of guarding me. Dominique worked hard during that entire series, and believe me; he earned my respect. Meanwhile, Dominique had become a much different and better offensive player. He’s a better rebounder and passer than he used to be, and he’s also broadened his offensive game.”
He was better than Jordan in one area of the game
Dominique was known as one of the most superior athletes in the league but soon developed other aspects of his game to perfection and could drop 30-35 points on any defense in the NBA. Larry used to get the best out of him most times, but the truth was also that there was no way he was going to contain Wilkins when he was on a roll.
“When Dominique gets hot, there’s nothing you can do to stop him. People say he takes bad shots, but so do I. He definitely doesn’t take as many as he used to, and he has much more range than when he came into the league. He has become a three-point threat, whereas when he came into the NBA, he was strictly a guy who would hurt you close to the basket.”
Interestingly enough, Bird even considered Wilkins to be more exciting than Michael Jordan when attacking the basket. He was a ferocious dunker and a highflyer that would explode to the rim with such energy that nobody could block his shot. With his length, strength, and explosiveness, the only thing you could do is get out of the way, which Bird had to learn the hard way when guarding Wilkins throughout his career.
“As an acrobat, Dominique is even more interesting in many ways than Michael Jordan. While Michael takes the ball straight to the basket, Dominique loves to spin. He comes right at you and then does a 360-degree spin right off the dribble. It’s a totally different type of basketball than anything I’ve seen before.”
Wilkins remains one of the most underrated players in NBA history simply because he never won an NBA championship. He played in the era of Larry & Magic, and then later Jordan, which didn’t leave a lot of room for him to have the opportunity to fight for a championship. Nevertheless, the real ones like Bird know how amazing Wilkins was as a player, especially in his prime when he was dropping 30 points per game and dunking on everyone in the league.