When Dominique Wilkins was traded to the Clippers during the 1993-94 season, it caused a divorce between the team and its fans that still shows its scars today. When he finally called it quits in 2000, the team was ready to begin to repair the relationship by bringing Wilkins back in a front office capacity -- and began the healing that continues today.
Our SB Nation Summer Series concludes with a look at the greatest personal comebacks in the franchise's history. We thought about some of the big injury comebacks, such as the recent example of Al Horford returning from his shoulder injury in time to give the Hawks a chance in the Celtics series last year.
Ultimately, we fell back on the return of Dominique to the team after a dark six year period after he was ripped from the lives and fanhood of Hawks fans and the ATL altogether.
Having Wilkins back in the fold in any capacity was a lift just as the team was torpedoing well below the lottery line during the early part of the aughts.
Upon his return, folks called for him to coach the team - a role that Wilkins smartly was never interested in. "Coaches get fired so fast in this league," Wilkins noted at the time. "Executives tend to stick around." Still, it's a testament to how the fans felt about Wilkins that just being on the bench could have improved fans' morale.
And he has stuck around-- from his retirement ceremony in January 2001 to fulfilling his ultimate calling -- as the unquestioned penultimate color commentator on Hawks TV broadcasts, Wilkins has continued in his role as signature player/NBA citizen of the Atlanta Hawks.
Had Wilkins not returned, the franchise would be a big grin missing the most essential teeth and something would always be missing without him being present. Instead, we hear our guy on every telecast, see him at most every ballgame and there is a sense of belonging -- and that these are still our Hawks.
It's hard for folks to understand if you are not ATL, and surely there are players in other franchises who have this impact, but the Hawks without Dominique feels like the USA without the stars and stripes. You may think this is laying it on a bit thick, but you can't understand the empty feeling left when Wilkins was ripped from us in 1994. You might not be able to understand the ghost that lingered over the franchise but the feeling was still so strong that the boos for Stan Kasten (who didn't make the trade) somewhat marred the retirement ceremony at the arena.
Having Dominique back restored some harmony to the franchise and his frank assessments and fun persona on the telecasts have made it feel like Hawks basketball again.
There could have been hard feelings and a lasting divorce - Instead Atlanta's signature player is out in front as one of the faces of Hawks basketball and it feels so right.