Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Julius Erving– those are all NBA legends that Dominique Wilkins had to face throughout his 15-year NBA career. But according to Nique, none of them was his toughest matchup in the league. Instead, it was the Knicks‘ legend – Bernard King.
The matchup that I loved was Bernard King. I couldn’t sleep the night before I played this guy. Because, Bernard King, I don’t care who you are, how great of a defensive player you are, he’s getting 40. You could not stop him. You may slow him down, but he never stopped moving. He moved all the time.Dominique Wilkins, KG Area 21
King was the guy you would hate to guard. You couldn’t take your eyes off of him. It’s a challenge when facing guys who are constantly moving on the court. You have to be locked in for 48 minutes. It’s a whole different mindset compared to guarding ball-dominant, static players. I would say it’s more challenging, and Nique also sees it that way.
Another thing about Bernard is how intimidating he was. Like you could see it in his eyes, he came to play. Dominique experienced it firsthand, as he reminisced about their encounters right before the tip-offs. They don’t sound pleasant.
All these fingers are taped up, and he never shook your hand. You go to the jump circle, and he looking at me like he looking through glass. I used to turn around like ‘damn, I gotta play tonight.’ I said to myself, ‘I know Bernard getting 40, so I’m gonna get my 40, and we just gonna call it a wash.’Dominique Wilkins, KG Area 21
I looked it up; King never dropped 40 on Nique. In 30 games the two had faced each other, Wilkins is the one with the bragging rights. His team came out on top in 16 of those matchups, as Nique seemingly outplayed King on a per-game basis. Dominique averaged 23.9 PPG to Bernard’s 19.6 and had better all-around outings numbers-wise.
But I see where Nique is coming from. Especially in those early days, before King’s knee injury, when he had a plethora of 30+ points performances against Wilkins. Even numbers show it – Bernard gave Nique problems.
Now, one can look purely at box scores and say Dominique faced tougher opponents over his Hall-of-Fame NBA career. It’s simply another instance of stats not telling the whole story. Because Bernard King sure wasn’t the best player Nique ever faced. But he was the guy he most hated going up against. And that’s coming from Wilkins himself. I don’t know about you, but I choose to trust the guy.