STEPPING UP — My Take: Wilkins’ Washington story comes full circle … almost

Published 11:13 pm Friday, April 17, 2015

For those on the outside looking in, Friday night’s SEC Storied documentary, “Dominique Belongs to Us,” was another work of art from the brilliant minds behind ESPN Films.

The piece spoke of Naismith Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins journey to stardom, from the projects of Baltimore to the streets of Washington to the University of Georgia and, eventually to the Atlanta Hawks. It was a lot of information to squeeze into an hour film, but director Kenan Holley and producer Rob Harvell gave the views a quality product.

When the film ended, however, I experienced an uneasy feeling, like something, no, someone was missing, forgotten in the lust of a story about a pure, unrivaled, local basketball talent. In my 17 months as sports editor, it was someone who I had many conversations with at the Seventh Street Bobby Andrews Rec Center, while covering youth basketball. Someone who, like Wilkins, is synonymous with the Pam Pack. Seemingly blinded by the glitz and glamor of the documentary, I then recalled a conversation I had with the nine-time NBA All-Star over the summer. One quote, specifically, stuck in my mind.

“He’s the reason why I played in the NBA all those years. He prepared me for that … He’s the best coach I’ve ever had on any level.”

Twenty years, 520 wins and two state championships. Coach Dave Smith’s airtime was limited to just a couple of seconds, one still frame image.

Most people in the country likely passed it over, but I’m willing to bet those, like me, who had some sort of interaction with Washington’s legendary coach over the years, did not. Smith was a mentor, a public servant, and a teacher, one who never missed a single day of school.

Whether it was cut due to time constraints or simply omitted, it’s a shame Wilkins’ couldn’t discuss his relationship with his head coach in front of a national audience. Smith, more than anyone, certainly deserved it. After all, when he died in July, Washington “suffered the loss of a true champion,” in Wilkins’ own words.

It’s also important to remember the other players on the team. Some players like the 6-foot-9 Alvis Rogers were included, but other than a team picture, very little credit was given to the supporting cast, one that supplied Wilkins’ with a slew of passes in transition and assists. Those state championships would not have happened if not for some of the other talented players — Rodgers (Wake Forrest), Shawn Williams (UNC Wilmington), Eric Harris, Tony Boston, Rudolph Black and Hale Stephenson, to name a few.

Finally, the recruiting process was touched upon, but never given closure, leaving it up for the viewer to decide whether he or she thought Wilkins might have (more than likely did) receive illegal monetary benefits to attend Georgia. But without any evidence, that’s an argument I will, like the movie did, leave up to the viewer (or reader, in this case).

In all, the documentary concluded what’s been an interesting calendar year here in the Original Washington. And while a certain portion of the film may have shown the town in a negative light, everything came full circle at the end, exposing the “new” Washington for the forgiving, accepting town that it is.