When Kobe Bryant ruptured his Achilles tendon on Friday night Dominique Wilkins was on the other side of the country. Yet as soon as he heard the news, no one knew more about the challenges facing Bryant that Wilkins.
Flash back to January 28, 1992 when as a 32 year old All-Star, Wilkins ruptured his own Achilles tendon in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Omni. Wilkins was in the middle of another terrific season with averages of 28.1 points and 7.0 rebounds for the Hawks.
Wilkins talked recently about the injury with The USA Today's Sam Amick that it took him about nine months to fully recover and to feel like his old self.
"When I found out, when I tore mine, I was just depressed," Wilkins said. "It's the same thing Kobe said (on Friday night), 'How can it happen to me? Why now? Why me? When I'm playing so well and the team has a chance to get in the playoffs and I tear my Achilles tendon?' So once he gets over the frustration of this injury happening - go get surgery, and now you have to put together a plan for yourself to rehabilitate that injury."
Wilkins is a good inspiration for Bryant as Dominique returned the next season to play in 71 games and put up the third best scoring mark of his career at 29.9 points per game. Nique would go on to make two more All-Star Games and retire as a 39 year old.
"I worked out twice a day for basically nine months," Wilkins said. "I was very driven to get back. You hear all the doubters, all the people saying, 'Oh, he's over 30 and he'll never make it back. And if you come back, you're not going to be any good.' I was determined to prove all the doubters wrong."
Wilkins could be considered the gold standard of NBA players returning from Achilles surgery. As Amick points out, it is the same injury that forced Isaiah Thomas into retirement and Dominique's own brother Gerald Wilkins was never the same after he tore his.
The Hawks have already been affected by an Achilles injury their own this season as reserve center Zaza Pachulia had season ending surgery just a few weeks ago and has already started the recovery process.