Up Next

NBA

Dominique Wilkins: ‘Father Time don’t wait for no one, man’

The Human Highlight Film can relate to Carmelo Anthony’s struggles to become a role player

Twenty-one years ago, Dominique Wilkins went from “The Human Highlight Film” to a role player coming off the bench only when deemed by others to be necessary. The transition was far from easy — as is the case for every aging NBA superstar.

“Father Time don’t wait for no one, man,” Wilkins told The Undefeated. “We try to fight it, but you just can’t fight it. The competitiveness kind of kicks in and keeps your mind thinking you can do it on that level. And that’s a great thing about being a great competitor. You’re not able to do it like you once were, but you can still be effective in other ways.”

Now it is Carmelo Anthony’s turn to grapple with Father Time. Anthony is now coming off the bench for the first time in his career. In Houston, Melo is averaging career lows of 13.4 points and 29.4 minutes. In his last outing, Anthony missed 10 of 11 shots and all six 3-pointers. ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Monday that barring a change in direction, the Rockets are expected to waive Anthony soon.

Houston went from being a win away from the 2018 NBA Finals to an embarrassing 5-7 start this season. But some players believe Anthony is being used as a distraction from the team’s struggles.

“They are not playing Melo, period,” one NBA All-Star said to The Undefeated. “He can still play.”

Said another NBA All-Star to The Undefeated: “Easy target. They’re using him as the scapegoat.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder wanted Anthony to come off the bench last season before trading him to the Hawks on July 19 in a three-team deal. Hawks owner Antony Ressler was actually open-minded about Anthony potentially playing in Atlanta this season to have a star on the roster who could sell tickets, a source said. But Anthony had no interest in staying with the Hawks, although he did get a jersey that he never wore from the franchise to commemorate the trade, sources said.

“[Anthony] could’ve played for us, but we have so many young guys,” said Wilkins, who is now a TV analyst for the Hawks. “It’s about developing our young guys. He probably would have played some minutes. But we have Taurean Prince and other young guys who are up-and-coming. …

“When you get to a certain point in life, you have to accept that you’re not what you once were. It is OK to be a role player, because what you are doing is help mentoring the young guys that are really trying to take your place.”

Then-Atlanta Hawks forward Dominique Wilkins dunks the ball over his head during the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1985.

AP Photo/Doug Atkins, File

Wilkins said he can relate to Anthony.

He was the Hawks’ all-time leading scorer with 23,292 points during 12 seasons. The two-time dunk champion scored 57 points in a game on two occasions for Atlanta and averaged more than 30 points per game for a season twice. But Wilkins, who has a statue in his honor outside of the Hawks’ State Farm Arena, was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in 1994. He also endured a frustrating one-season stint with the rebuilding Boston Celtics during the 1994-95 season and played in Greece for a season.

Wilkins returned to the NBA for the 1996-97 season to play with David Robinson, Chuck Person, Sean Elliott, Vernon Maxwell and Avery Johnson in San Antonio. The nine-time All-Star finally accepted a role off the bench for the first time in his career.

Robinson was lost for the season six games in after suffering back and foot injuries. Person never played because of a back injury. The Spurs also added a new head coach 18 games into the season in Gregg Popovich. Wilkins adapted and averaged a team-high 18.2 points, primarily off the bench.

“He was itchy on that bench,” Popovich told The Undefeated. “It was like he drank too much coffee or something … but he was on that bench itching to get in the game. We tried to get him into a routine. We were looking for the early Manu [Ginobili], somebody off the bench to give us some juice. He scored his butt off at the end of his career, and he was still scoring like crazy.

“He was just unique, loved the game. He was like one of the throwbacks, the [George] Gervins and one of those guys. A scorer.”

Wilkins, who made a career-high $3.5 million one season with the Hawks and the Celtics, was making a career-low $247,500 with San Antonio.

“I’m sure he had a hard time adapting, but he never showed it,” Popovich said. “He busted his butt. He never complained. He never went after anybody. He just did whatever we asked him to do, honestly.”

After playing a season in Italy, Wilkins played one more NBA season alongside his brother, Gerald, during the strike-shortened 1998-99 season with the Orlando Magic. The Hall of Famer averaged a career-low 5.0 points after previously never averaging less than 18. But besides playing with his brother, he enjoyed being a mentor for the young players as the Magic went 33-17 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

“When I went to Orlando, it wasn’t really about winning,” Wilkins said. “It was about nurturing the young guys. The veterans became obsolete really quick, but I was having a good time. I had a chance to play with my brother. …

“I was cool being a role player. I had my fun. I did my thing. I moved on.”

Carmelo Anthony (left) talks with James Ennis III of the Houston Rockets during their game against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 3 at the United Center in Chicago.

Getty Images

It remains to be seen whether Anthony will be able to embrace a lesser role, but Wilkins feels for the 34-year-old future Hall of Famer.

“The stars have a hard time because they’re competitors,” Wilkins said. “Even when I retired, I wanted to come back and play. In your mind and your heart, it never leaves you. So as a competitor, it’s the nature of the beast. It’s who you are. Even today, I still think I can play. That’s just my mind talking. That’s the way we are.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.