Growing up in southeast Kentucky almost split you right down the middle as far as which big city you might want to lean toward as far as your sports were concerned. Cincinnati was four hours to the north, Atlanta was six hours to the south. The majority of Kentucky is Reds country, especially the farther north you go. The St. Louis Cardinals have their share of fans in the western part of the state. The bulk of the remaining minority got behind the Braves. Having spent more time as a kid in Atlanta than Cincinnati, I was in that Braves minority.
The NBA was a different story altogether. Bulls, Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, and Pacers to name a few, was just some of the gear that could be seen on any given day at school. When Rex Chapman left UK and was drafted by Charlotte, there was a lot of teal in that mix as well. When it came to the NBA, I again kept things in Atlanta. Yearly family trips to the ATL combined with TBS bringing the Hawks and Braves into our living room daily made it easy to be in both fan bases. Dale Murphy and Dominique Wilkins made it easy to stay there. They were my guys. They were both larger than life.
All of that was said to say this. It’s been almost eighteen years since the heart of the Hawks was traded to the Clippers. Is it crazy or wrong to still be bitter about this?
It’s not crazy at all to still be bitter, it’s just sports. On February 22, 1994, I walked into my second period Algebra II class at Cumberland High School. SportsCenter was on television. Every now and then that’s how Mr. Walter Dick rolled. For those of you who didn’t go to CHS and aren’t Redskins, he was the best Algebra teacher in all of the world. That’s where I first heard about the ‘Nique for Danny Manning trade rumors. DANNY MANNING?!?! The very idea of this trade was absurd!! How could they . . ? Why would they . . ? This makes no sense!! DANNY MANNING?!?!? Two days later the deal was done, ‘Nique and a first round pick were headed to L.A. Danny Manning was headed to Atlanta. Danny Manning!!! To call this deal a slap in the face is to kind, to say that the Hawks front office was boneheaded is to nice.
Wilkins had been the face of the franchise for over a decade, and had even bounced back from an achilles injury in 1992. He came back a better player, averaged 29.9 a game in the ’92-93 season while continuing to improve his rebounding numbers and three point accuracy en route to winning Comeback Player of the Year honors. The expansion of his game was evident even before the injury. Atlanta had been a 50 win team throughout the mid to late 80′s. They had faded some in the early 90′s. In 1993-94 season they were back to being one the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
They were just in one of those nice grooves all season long. It may have been ‘Nique’s best shot at a deep playoff run since game 7 in Boston back in 1988. At the time that this atrocious trade was made the Hawks were sitting at 36-16, leading the Central Division. They were and still are the only team who’s leading their conference to ever trade away their leading scorer after the All Star Break. No other team has done it before or since. Simply mind boggling. Atlanta finished the season strong with Manning, going 21-9, and secured the #1 seed in the East with a 57-25 record. They barely made it out of the first round, escaping the #8 seed Heat in five games, and then went on to get bounced in six by the Pacers in the second round.
Who knows, maybe the same thing happens if ‘Nique is there, who knows, maybe the Heat sweep the Hawks in the first round if he’s there. That’s beside the point, Dominique should have been allowed to lead his team into the post season after they got off to such a good start. Who knows, maybe he makes it to his first conference finals or even finals of his career if the front office had just left well enough alone. If there had been a parting of ways after the season was over, so be it. It would have still been bad, but not this bad. They should have crossed that bridge if and when they got to it. No one wanted to see Danny Manning attempting to fill his shoes. Manning didn’t sign a long term deal either, instead choosing to sign with the Suns. Atlanta was left with nothing.
To say that ‘Nique was disrespected is an insult to disrespect itslelf. Has there ever been another elite franchise player who’s had so little help around him? George Gervin, maybe? Not knocking Doc Rivers, Kevin Willis, Plastic Man, Spud Webb, John Battle, Tree Rollins, or Mookie Blaylock, but they were all just varying degrees of solid. ‘Nique never had a Pippen to his Jordan, a Dumars to his Zeke, heck a Smits to his Reggie Miller would have been an upgrade. The two year stint with an aging Moses Malone is probably the closest thing he had to a legit running mate. Jon Koncak was paid like a true partner in crime . . . that’s another blog in itself.
So a superstar who’s had to fly solo and still put up 26,668 points and averaged 24.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.5 apg, and 1.3 spg for his career has to at least be a lock for the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players list right? Wrong, ‘Nique couldn’t win for losing, somehow he was omitted from the list. Don’t get me wrong, the list is great, but I’m looking at Shaq Diesel, we knew he was going to do great things and was well on his way to having the type of career everyone thought he would have. But in ’96 he was just four years into that Hall of Fame career. He was off to a good start, but his resume’ didn’t have enough substance to merit top 50 greatest of all time status. It was to soon for that. ’Nique’s numbers were sitting over there speaking for themselves and no one was listening. I guess some things will never be understood.
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