During his first interview after his three-year contract extension was announced, Wizards coach Randy Wittman attempted to clear the air about a much-discussed pact he made with his players before their first-round playoff series against Chicago.
If Washington beat the Bulls, the story went, Wittman would dunk a basketball. The Wizards dispatched Chicago in five games and Wittman has yet to pay his debt.
“It was not a dunk attempt; it started as touching the net,” Wittman told reporters on Wednesday. “As we all know, or as you all know, [Wizards center Marcin Gortat] can take things from a publicity standpoint and take it over the edge, and it became a dunk. So there’s got to be a compromise here. I could hardly dunk when I played.”
NBA Hall of Famer and two-time dunk contest champion Dominique Wilkins, who teamed with Wittman on the Atlanta Hawks from 1983 to 1988, confirmed that the Wizards shouldn’t expect their coach to honor the agreement – misconstrued or not – anytime soon.
“Witt couldn’t dunk when he was a player,” Wilkins told me. “I don’t know what even made him think he can dunk. He definitely wasn’t a dunker. He barely could touch the rim, are you kidding me?”
Wilkins, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes shortly after his playing career ended in 1999, was in town to speak at the Take Control of Your Diabetes conference at the Convention Center on Saturday. He says he can still dunk, and sometimes plays basketball against his stepson, Isaiah Wilkins, who has signed with the University of Virginia. The elder Wilkins and Wittman found things to bond over besides the ability to live above the rim during their five seasons with the Hawks.
“He was my best friend,” Wilkins said. “I love Randy Wittman; we still have a great friendship even to this day. Even though we don’t see each other all the time, when we see each other it’s like we never left.”
Wilkins, who works in the Hawks’ front office, said he’s proud of his former teammate for leading Washington to its first win in the second round of the playoffs since before the Bullets selected Wittman with the 22nd pick in the 1983 draft. Wittman’s rights were traded to Atlanta, where he became fast friends with Wilkins, the No. 3 pick out of Georgia one year earlier.
“He was the funniest guy,” Wilkins said. “He was an instigator, always kept stuff going. I think that’s the stuff I love about him because we were both two practical jokers.”
Wittman was in a joking mood Friday while reminiscing about Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between Atlanta and Boston in 1988, an all-time NBA classic. Wilkins finished with 47 points on 19 of 33 shooting, but the Celtics prevailed, 118-116, behind 34 points from Larry Bird. Wittman scored 22 points on 11 of 13 shooting in defeat.
“I tell Dominique every time, if he just passed it to me a little bit more…” Wittman said during an interview with the Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan.
“See what I’m saying? He’s a practical joker,” said Wilkins, who considers the loss the most memorable game of his career. “Well, if I’d have passed it to him more than I should’ve, the game may not have been that close. … We didn’t want to give Randy more than about 15 shots a game, and 15 was stretching it.”
Joking aside, Wilkins respected Wittman’s ability to execute the offense with point guard Doc Rivers.
“Witt was a great teammate and I loved the fact that Witt was always on the same side of the floor as me because I could always depend on him to make a play,” Wilkins said. “He was always a head’s-up guy. I always said that he and Doc Rivers were the two guys who would one day be coaches.”