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Atlanta Hawks great Wilkins visits Albany

Former Atlanta Hawks great Dominque Wilkins waves to the crowd as he’s introduced Thursday at Phoebe Healthworks to discuss getting tested for diabetes — a disease he has suffered from for the last 12 years.

Former Atlanta Hawks great Dominque Wilkins waves to the crowd as he’s introduced Thursday at Phoebe Healthworks to discuss getting tested for diabetes — a disease he has suffered from for the last 12 years.

ALBANY — Dominique Wilkins, the man known as the “Human Highlight Film” when he was an NBA legend playing for the Atlanta Hawks, was in Albany on Thursday.

But he wasn’t talking about the Hawks or the NBA.

Wilkins spoke at a luncheon at Phoebe Healthworks, urging people to get screened and giving his own take on diabetes.

“My grandfather had diabetes. My father had diabetes,’’ Wilkins said. “Diabetes is hereditary, but I didn’t realize the problem I would have.’’

Then 12 years ago, Wilkins, who is the NBA Hall of Fame and now works as the Hawks’ vice president of basketball and as a TV analyst with the team, found out he had type 2 diabetes.

“I felt awful,’’ he said. “I was going to the bathroom every five minutes, and I knew something was wrong. I went to the doctor, and he told me, ‘I have good news and bad news.’ He said, ‘The good news is you are not dying. The bad news is you have diabetes, and you have to change your lifestyle right now.’ ”

Wilkins talked about how those changes saved his life.

“I used to hate my doctor, but now my doctor and I are best friends. He saved my life,’’ Wilkins said.

It’s difficult for some to believe an NBA player, a man whose entire life depended on being not only healthy but in shape to compete at the highest level of basketball, could end up with diabetes.

Wilkins told the large crowd that he ate the wrong foods for years, but he worked out all the time. Then he retired.

“When I retired I stopped working out,’’ Wilkins said. “I got tired of working out after 17 years of training. I gained a few pounds. When I went to the doctor he told me my blood sugar was 350. It frightened me so much.’’

Wilkins said even before he went to the doctor and found out he had diabetes that the disease had already affected his vision. After he was diagnosed and began changing his lifestyle and taking medication, his vision became better.

“One day I was looking out the window and I could see clear as a bell,’’ Wilkins said. “That’s when I realized I needed to do something with my life and for others.’’

Wilkins has been a spokesman against the disease since, speaking whenever he gets the chance and spending time lobbying in Washington D.C. His vision is to make everyone aware of the disease and to help those who have diabetes live a full life.

“Diabetes education starts with us. We have to hold ourselves accountable,’’ said Wilkins, who preaches the three key elements to living with diabetes.

“Diet, exercise and medication,’’ said Wilkins, who said he walks two miles every day and still shoots the basketball (150 shots daily), and plays basketball with his 16-year-old son. He said when he was first diagnosed with diabetes that he worked out rigorously for a month and lost 32 pounds. “It was really hard. I didn’t want to work out.’’

Wilkins said he wasn’t alone.

“I know 30 guys I played with in the NBA who have diabetes,’’ he said. “You only get one life. Diabetes has devastated this country. I saw my grandfather die. I saw my father die. I don’t want anyone else to go through it.’’

Wilkins’ message was to the point: Be aware of diabetes and get screened. He also urged young people to change their lifestyle and eating habits now to avoid the disease later.

“Young people think they are invincible,’’ he said. “I was one of the most athletic guys playing the game. I thought I was invincible. If I had changed my diet during my career, I wouldn’t be a diabetic.’’

He added.

“It takes focus,’’ he said. “I’m focused on living longer.’’