The recent announcement by the Atlanta Hawks that they plan to raise the number 55 up into the Philips Arena rafters in a Nationally Televised game against Boston, raised some eyebrows. It certainly surprised me nearly as much as it surprised Dikembe Mutombo.
My first thoughts were “wow, he’s a legend but how long was he there for?”, “too soon man, there are other guys in front of Mount Mutombo, surely” and “has Kevin Willis been slighted”.
To me, a jersey retirement signifies not only your longevity within the organisation you’ve played, but also where your name appears in the record books, were you part of a successful era and were you a fine and upstanding member of the community who represented the club in a way every Atlantan could be proud.
So why isn’t Kevin getting any love?
I am fully aware I may have some bias in this, I can only think the way I think though. I grew up in Kevin’s era and I played for a junior SBL team called the Perry Lakes Hawks with similar jerseys. I have vivid memories of Kevin Willis in an NBA Action special “Holding Court” from 1993. This dude was a chiselled hunk of 7 foot wrecking ball, at least upper body wise (sorry Kevin, I had chicken legs too) and he was part of the famed Atlanta’s Air Force. He was an adonis!
I needed to go through the history books to make sure what I was thinking about Kevin was actually right.
Kevin Willis is in the top 10 of 22 All-Time stats for the Hawks including the main ones: Games (753), Points (10582) and Total Rebounds (7332) (all stats courtesy of basketballreference.com) For comparison, Dikembe is not in any of those top 10’s.
When you delve further, Kevin Willis is top 6 in 14 all-time stats including the clubhouse leader for both offensive and defensive rebounds. (Note: Bob Pettit would probably lead both of these stats if they were kept prior to 1973-74, but that wouldn’t help my argument, so Kevin is the leader)
When it comes to the record books, Kevin has the numbers. In the 66 year history of the Hawks, statistically he’s one of the greatest to ever put on the singlet.
One of the main reasons Dikembe has received this honour, is possibly because of his community and humanitarian work both in Atlanta, in America and in his Native homeland of Kinshasha. I get that, I really do. People must have forgotten though, Kevin Willis also had a big community presence in Atlanta when he opened a clothing store for big and tall people in 1988, helping hundreds of people find clothes that fit.
Community presence? Kevin has that covered.
Kevin Willis was drafted as a Hawk. He was a Hawk team captain with Dominique Wilkins (respect), a fierce rebounder who would have led the league in the early 90’s if it wasn’t for a Worm, an All-Star in 1992 and All-NBA 3rd team selection while with the Hawks.
Kevin Willis would leave the game at 44 years of age with career averages of 12.1ppg and 8.4 rpg. He was an NBA champion in 03 with the Spurs, he became the oldest player in NBA history upon his retirement in 2007 and was one of only 15 players in NBA history with over 16,000 points and 11,000 rebounds in their career. A phenomenal effort. Some other names on that list, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Wilt Chamberlain.
Dikembe Mutombo is not on that exclusive list.
Other NBA stuff and accolades? Kevin has this covered too.
This is not meant to denegrate or diminish anything that Dikembe has done, he was… no, IS, a legend of the world, not just the NBA. This was merely to highlight one of my favourites in Kevin Willis and bring his Hawk achievements back into the thoughts of those who may have forgotten or indeed never knew.
I think old man Kevin’s number should be hanging in the Philips Arena Rafters too.