Oh, no," says Dominique Wilkins, threading his burgundy Mercedes through traffic with the same magic he conjures to dunk, swish and otherwise handle a basketball for the Atlanta Hawks. "I forgot my wallet."
It is midnight, the moon is bright, a girlfriend is waiting and Jacques Dominique Wilkins, a Three Million Dollar Man at 22, is disco-bound--and broke.
"Need gas money?" asks a reporter.
"Yeah," says Wilkins, who earns more than $500,000 a year as one of the highest-paid rookies in NBA history. "Pay you back tomorrow."
If he gets temporary amnesia, it's the only minor affliction Wilkins, a former all-America at the University of Georgia, appears to be suffering.
After 26 games, he's averaging 18 points a game, about six rebounds and bedazzling swelling hometown crowds with desperado dunks and believe-it-or-not acrobatics.
"We call him 'Space,' " says teammate Eddie Johnson, "because on the court, he lives in outer space."
Wilkins, at 6-feet-7, jumps an inch shy of four feet straight up -- so high that Coach Kevin Loughery complains he doesn't get fouled enough because he soars over defenders. Yet, "he jumps so high, he's always open," says center Tree Rollins.
"A lot of times, you get up so high, you just say, 'Wow,' " says Wilkins. "You can't believe it."
Against Washington here Nov. 2, he scored 30 points, his season high, in a 105-88 victory. The Bullets and Hawks meet again tonight at 8:05 at Capital Centre. The Hawks (12-14) are third in the NBA Central Division.
Sometimes, Wilkins forgets things. "He's dreaming about the future. Visions of sugar plums are dancing in his head," said Fred Carter, assistant coach of the Hawks. "He's forgotten his wallet more than once."
Wilkins forgot wallet, credit cards and money after the Hawks beat Cleveland here last week. Nevertheless, outside the dressing room, he gave away his sneakers as usual, then scribbled two dozen autographs and held court for reporters.
He sashayed forth in a natty white wool suit, shiny snakeskin boots, diamond ring agleam. He kissed his mother, Gertrude Baker, a former motel maid and ex-welfare mother of eight. She just moved into a $300,000 neo-Victorian house in a posh neighborhood. Wilkins bought it after signing a six-year, $3.4 million contract with owner Ted Turner in September. He waved to brothers and sisters, high-fived teammates, juggled two girlfriends, then escaped.
No wonder he forgot his wallet.
"He's been under a microscope," says Loughery. "People expect too much out of him. They compare him to Dr. J, which is unfair. They forget he should be a senior in college. All the hype he gets, it could hurt his game, but he's handling it well.
Wilkins shrugs off the rigors of instant celebrity status. "I'm at my best under pressure," he says. "I don't feel it. I don't worry about it."
"Atlanta has itself a blue-chipper," says Julius Erving, who met his devotee one on one in the 76ers' 111-97 loss here Nov. 30. Final score: Wilkins 26 points, 11 rebounds; Erving 21 points, seven rebounds. Wilkins got three assists, Erving two. Erving had one steal, Wilkins two.
"The more the Hawks open the floor up, the more Dominique is going to accomplish," said Erving afterward. "That's what happened tonight, and Dominique just put the game away. He's a good kid with a good heart and the proper attitude. Attitude sometimes becomes altitude. The kid is going to be great."
The pressure began after Wilkins dunked his first basketball on a Baltimore playground at 13. He was 5-feet-8, playing anything-goes playground ball at Patterson Park and Sparrows Point. The opponents included Ernest Graham, later to be a University of Maryland star, and others four and five years older. It toughened him.
"They used to push me around, but they told me I could go places," he says. "I just didn't think about it too much."
He was born in Paris, where his father was stationed with the Army before moving to Dallas, Fort Sill, Okla., and Baltimore. After his parents' divorce, the family wound up in the O'Donnell Heights projects. Some nights, he went to bed hungry.
On a summer visit to Washington, N.C., where his grandmother lives, Wilkins astounded Dave Smith, basketball coach of the High Pam-Packs, who happened to catch his midair poetry at the local recreation center. He suggested a transfer; Wilkins agreed.
"The thing that impressed me was the way he went after the basketball," says Smith. "But he didn't come to me playing the way he left."
Enrolling in 10th grade, Wilkins led the Pam-Packs on a 56-game winning streak, longest in the nation at the time, back-to-back state championships and earned the nickname "Dr. Dunk."
Courted by 250 schools, he picked Georgia after Coach Hugh Durham pitched him on the notion that he wouldn't be compared to anyone there. He would set the standard.
After word spread that Wilkins was leaving the state, the family got death threats, presumably from irate North Carolina fans, his mother recalls. Rocks were thrown through their window. Paint was poured on her car. "I never liked North Carolina," she says.
After Wilkins averaged 23.6 points per game in his sophomore season, leading the Southeastern Conference in scoring, Detroit offered him $400,000 a year to turn pro. His mother was on welfare at the time. She urged him to make up his own mind. He stayed a kid one more year.
Last summer, the Utah Jazz drafted Wilkins in the first round. He was in training camp when Bob Woolf, his lawyer-agent, got a call from the Hawks, heavy into a season-ticket sales slump, desperate to stir up fans in this football-crazed town of Georgia alumni.
Here was the deal: if Wilkins would come to terms within 72 hours, Turner was willing to trade John Drew, Freeman Williams and a reported $1 million for him.
"The toughest part of the deal," says Woolf, who got Larry Bird $650,000 a year from the Celtics as a rookie, "was controlling Dominique's enthusiasm. I didn't want him to show it even though he felt it was the most wonderful thing that had happened to him in his life."
Within five days after signing Wilkins, the Hawks sold almost 900 season tickets at $400 apiece--more than in the entire month of August. "At least half those came from Dominique," says General Manager Stan Kasten. "Only four guys actually sell tickets on their own: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Julius Erving and Kareem. Dominique can be No. 5."
"I'm happy now," reflects Wilkins, moonlight bouncing off his Mercedes, tape deck ablast with Earth, Wind and Fire. "Sometimes, you think about how far you've come. But if the people out there who have talent do the right things and don't get into trouble, they can make it out, too."
Wilkins loves music and lives in a $350-a-month apartment, full of high-tech toys. Most of his money goes into the bank. "I don't want to go overboard like a lot of guys," he says.
But the one person Wilkins has not forgotten is his mother. "Dominique promised that one day he would be rich and take care of me," says Gertrude Baker, who drives a Lincoln, carries a Gucci bag and wears designer clothes as his most trusted adviser. "He hasn't let me down."