WEST ALLIS, Wis. – Dominique Wilkins’ impressive numbers throughout a 16-year NBA career earned election to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Less than a year after retiring in 1999, though, another number registered altered the remainder of his life.
The 6-foot-8 Wilkins was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which accounts for about 90 percent of diagnosis and is associated with age, obesity and family history.
“I went through denial for about a week,” he said Aug. 16 while getting a tour of the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing car from driver Charlie Kimball at the Milwaukee Mile. “I was pretty shocked when I was diagnosed; my father died of diabetes and so did my grandfather. I knew it could affect somebody in our family but I didn’t think it could be me because I was in great shape.”
Wilkins took charge of his new health status just as he took charge on the basketball court, and now he seeks to inspire others with diabetes to do the same and raise awareness. Wilkins and Kimball, who in 2007 was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2007, are spokesmen for Novo Nordisk, a leading global diabetes care company.
“My message about prevention is diet, exercise and medication, but the hardest thing for people to change is diet and exercise,” Wilkins said. “I had to get back to some things that I used to do. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do them at that level but I did it enough to be successful at losing the weight. I feel better because of those lifestyles changes I have made.”
Wilkins, 54, the Atlanta Hawks’ vice president of basketball since 2004, learned of the technology inherent in Kimball’s No. 83 car and then watched and listened to the afternoon practice from the team’s pit stand. He’ll attend the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest on Aug. 17.
“It’s very impressive. You talk about getting in a rhythm, you have all those different things that you have to have in your head all the time,” Wilkins said. “Also, when you are affected by a chronic disease this type of sport takes so much out of your body and to see what Charlie does I’m amazed. I couldn’t do it.”
After his diagnosis, Kimball returned to the cockpit in 2008 and claimed a podium finish in his first race. Today, by competing in the most diverse and competitive motorsports series in the world, he is proving that living with diabetes is not restricting him from fulfilling his dream.
Physical and mental preparation for the strenuous races goes hand in hand with proper diabetes management for Kimball, of Camarillo, Calif. Water and orange juice are available for Kimball to drink through a tube system while in the car.
“It’s neat to me because it always surprises me to how similar our stories are, how similar our perspectives are not only as athletes but as people overcoming the challenge of diabetes successfully and getting that message out to as many people as possible,” he said. “Dominique talks about treating it aggressively and for me it’s managing my diabetes properly so when I get in the car all I have to concentrate on is racing and diabetes is along for the ride.”