Just don’t expect his 6-foot-8 frame to fit snugly into one of those open-wheeled cockpits.
It’s no career change for Wilkins, just a visit this weekend to the Milwaukee Mile ahead of Sunday’s race and part of an effort to promote diabetes awareness along with driver Charlie Kimball.
Both Wilkins and Kimball have diabetes, and both serve as spokesman for Novo Nordisk, which also sponsors Kimball’s No. 83 car.
“The biggest thing is to raise awareness,” Kimball said. “Coupling that with being an NBA Hall of Famer, he brings a lot of (attention) to the topic.”
For more than his height, too.
“Too tall to fit in a race car for sure, but can definitely be part of a pit crew,” Kimball joked this week.
Wilkins’ schedule today calls for a ride in the pace car with Kimball driving. He’ll also be spending time in the pits.
It will be a far different meeting from their usual encounters, pacing the halls of Congress to meet with senators and representatives about diabetes awareness. Wilkins was diagnosed in 2000 with Type 2 diabetes, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases. It is associated with older age, obesity, inactivity and family history.
“The thing is to continue to educate people about diet and exercise,” Wilkins said in a phone interview. “From a racing standpoint, this is my first time.”
Kimball was 22 in 2007 when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which the CDC says is an autoimmune disease that may be caused by genetic, environmental or other factors. Kimball said he manages his blood sugar before getting into the cockpit, and has water and orange juice in his car.
Kimball’s car itself contains the logo of sponsor Novo Nordisk, which typically raises questions about the health care company and by extension, diabetes. The stories he hears from fans, in return, are inspiring.
“I know the fact that I am out competing is a victory for so many people,” Kimball said.
Wilkins said he’s looking forward to supporting his friend this weekend. Conversely, Kimball said he knows better than to challenge Wilkins to a game of one-on-one on the basketball court.
Wilkins averaged 24.8 points in a 16-year NBA career ending in 1999. Nicknamed the “Human Highlight Film,” Wilkins spent 12 seasons with the Atlanta Hawks.
“I’m smart enough to know that is a losing situation all the way through,” Kimball said about shooting hoops with Wilkins. “Basketball skills, I’m sure, are extremely limited.”