DAMIEN WILKINS ON DEFENSE, DUNKS AND WHY HE STAYS INDOORS IN PHILLY
“Guys, my locker's right here,” Damien Wilkins said. “You're at the wrong spot.”
It was then, in the first month of the season, that Wilkins' sense of humor became apparent. Wilkins, the ninth-year forward, has become their defensive specialist. He's one of their first guys off the bench for coach Doug Collins, and a guy who's willing to do the dirty work to earn his keep and earn his teammates' respect.
In a sitdown with Wilkins recently, the 33-year-old talked a lot about respect – trying to make the league to maintain his family legacy, going from an undrafted rookie out of Georgia who was picked up by Seattle in 2004 to being the Sixers' player rep this season. While he averages only 2 points and 1 rebound per game, it's evident Wilkins' impact on the game goes far beyond his individual stats.
He also talked about his comedic stylings, why he doesn't leave his house and who he thinks is the Sixers' best dunker. The answer might surprise you...
Q: You're the jokester. How did that come about – that you're the guy who keeps it loose in the locker room?
Wilkins: “I don't know. I'm just a laid-back, relaxed guy. I don't know where some of the stuff I say comes from. I watch a lot of TV. I blame it on that. I wouldn't consider myself a comedian. I don't know where it comes from, just comes out of nowhere.”
Q: You're towing both lines – the funny guy and also the respected veteran. What's it like having that title?
Wilkins: “The respect part comes from your actions, your time in the league and guys knowing what I've gone through and the things I've had to deal with to still be here nine years later. The work ethic – I think guys see that and respect that. If I didn't have that or do that, I would just be another guy on the team that, I'm sure, guys would like because I'd like to think I'm likable. But the respect level might not be as high. I've learned so much over my career and I like to share that kind of knowledge with other guys on the team. I don't try to make people change, or make people think like me. We have talent on this team, and I like to learn from them, as well.”
Q: What was your reaction to Doug Collins and the Sixers picking up your contract, guaranteeing you for the rest of the year?
Wilkins: “I went into his office. It meant a lot. The bottom line is I hear and see things. There are guys who cover our team that I've read that people are sending me, and they're saying things that aren't that positive. They just don't know basketball. They just don't, so it never gets to me. I went to Coach and I said, No. 1, I really appreciate it, the fact that this organization has shown the kind of confidence in me to keep me around because they didn't have to. At the time, when they did, we weren't playing particularly well. Normally, when things like that happen, they cut loose ends so to speak. For me, it showed that they have a tremendous amount of respect and confidence in me. Coach has been someone I can confide in. And he comes to me sometimes and I give him my opinion.”
Q: To that end, does it mean anything to be the Sixers' players rep?
Wilkins: “Every title you're given, to me – as a guy who came into this league undrafted – is very valuable. I take that very seriously. I care about the players in this league and their livelihood. I'd like to think my input, as the player rep for the players' association, helps us all. It's one opinion, but it's a voice that's being heard. I care very deeply about that. The respect level in the locker room, I guess that comes from me being a fighter. I'm with them 100-percent. If they were in a foxhole, I'd be right there with them.”
Q: That fighting mentality, has that helped you have staying power in the league?
Wilkins: “I don't accept no, even when I asked a girl out when I was younger. If she told me no, I couldn't believe she was telling me no. I was like, 'Wait a minute. Look at me. Seriously. Look at me.' I just can't accept no. I can't accept can't. Even my children, they'll walk around the house and say can't. It's a word I refuse to allow them to use because, even with my agent at the time, when I was coming out of college, he asked me if playing overseas was an option. I said it would be if I didn't feel like I was an NBA player. Him telling me that made me feel a little bit discouraged because he knew where my heart was and that I wanted to play in the NBA. Him asked me that felt like something wasn't right. Lo and behold, I didn't get drafted, but I didn't think that meant I wasn't an NBA player. I couldn't accept that. I worked my butt off and that's what I do every day. I'm reminded of that night every single day, and I don't take life too seriously. I love going to work. I love going home watching 'Scandal' OnDemand. I don't go anywhere in Philly, No. 1, because it's cold (Wilkins is from Georgia), and No. 2, because I hear sirens everywhere I go. When I'm home, I hear sirens all day. I don't hear no birds chirping. I hear sirens, so I take that as my warning to stay in the house. I'm just a laid-back guy who likes working, likes getting better and likes having a good time.”
Q: Because of your family's legacy in the NBA, is that where the pressure comes from to be an NBA player?
Wilkins: “Growing up, I wasn't around my dad (Gerald, a 13-year NBA veteran). I didn't live or move in with him and get to know him until I was 14 years old. I was in a single-parent household, living with my mom. It was me, my mom and my little brother. My mom and my dad never married. She had me at a young age and they had split. He went off to college and to his ventures, and she stayed. I didn't really get to know my dad until later. I knew of him, knew of the things he did, knew of the things he had accomplished. I spent a little more time with my uncle (Dominique, a nine-time NBA All-Star) growing up, but for the most part, it was no pressure at all. I just wanted better. When I got to know my dad, I saw the life he had being in the NBA, and I wanted that for my mom and for my family and for me. That drive started there, really. I always played basketball growing up and when I moved in with him at the age of 14, that's when it really became, 'Oh, this is what I want to do. I want these things. I want to live like this. I want my mom to live like this.' It went from there and took off. I never looked back, never allowed anyone to tell me I couldn't do anything.”
Q: You've said it before that you'd like to be a coach one day. What are some of the more poignant lessons you've learned along the way? Anything from Doug?
Wilkins: “From Doug? To relax and to have fun. With everything I want to do, I want to have fun. If I'm a coach someday, and I've always said if I was a coach – or when I'm a coach – I want to be a coach that has fun coaching or teaching the game and learning the game, and allow my team to go out there and have some fun. You have fun when you're playing hard, with intensity and enthusiasm. That's when the fun comes. There's no fun in not playing hard or not winning or getting your butt whooped every night. There's no fun in that. Having fun is playing hard. I want that to be the identity of my team because that's my identity. That's how I've made it to where I have in my career because I like to think every possession, I play hard, I play like it's my last.”
Q: Last question – who's the best dunker on this team?
Wilkins: “Best dunker? I'm pretty high on that list. I'm going to go as far as to say it may be me. Thad (Young) gets a lot of lay-ups. He's had a few dunks. Evan (Turner) is a below-the-rim player. Spencer (Hawes), well, he's allergic to the paint. Yeah, I'm going to say it's me. I have not seen Andrew's dunks. I've seen a lot of jump hooks from Andrew. When he gets back, I'm going to tell him not to dunk.”
Q: So you can retain your title as best dunker?
Wilkins: “No, I'm going to tell him not to dunk so he can preserve his legs. It's like, 'Andrew, you don't have to prove anything. Just stand there in the paint. We'll throw it to you, take your jump hook, take your two points and go back on defense. Don't do any dunks.'”
Q: You had that nice dunk against the Lakers – that basline spin move. You got more of that in the tank?
Wilkins: “I've got a whole lot more of that in the tank. These legs are fresh.”