A former NBA player has been banned from Forsyth County recreation centers for two years following a dispute with staff.
Gerald Wilkins, a 13-year professional basketball player, appealed his suspension to the Forsyth County Parks and Recreation Board, stating two years was “uncalled for” based on what happened Aug. 8.
The board sided with the staff recommendation and voted 3-0 to uphold the two-year ban after a closed session at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. Members Todd Holbrook and Dan Slott were absent.
Reached Wednesday by phone, Wilkins said he hadn’t yet received official word from the parks department and declined to elaborate on the decision.
He did say, however, that he would seek legal advice on future action if the board had upheld the suspension.
Wilkins, 50, a Johns Creek resident who spent the majority of his career with the New York Knicks, had been coaching clients at the county’s Old Atlanta Recreation Center in south Forsyth for more than a year. He’s also taught basketball camps and clinics, as well as worked with the county on launching its youth program.
Wednesday, Wilkins said that most of his clients live near the center and he’s signed contracts with them for coaching there.
Tuesday night before the parks board, Wilkins said his Aug. 8 conversation with a center employee about a gym space reservation “escalated” to the point where he used a curse word to express his discontent with the rental schedule.
According to a Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office report, rec center employees told deputies that Wilkins had directed profanity at them and accused them of being racist after they couldn’t move his scheduled gym time to earlier in the day.
The report states: “[Staff] said Mr. Wilkins had done business there for a long time and has helped them out in the past so they try to accommodate him if they can … today they did not have an open spot, so they could not give him an earlier time … this sent Mr. Wilkins into a tirade.”
A staff member called the sheriff’s office after Wilkins reportedly refused to leave the premises when asked.
Tuesday night, Wilkins said that he did not immediately leave because he had clients on the way, and he wanted to speak to them about the situation. He also wanted to make his case to the staff and the deputies, who also were en route.
He received a letter afterward from the parks department that issued the two-year suspension due to violation of the county’s zero tolerance policy for using foul language and a verbal confrontation with staff, as well as refusing to leave the premises when asked.
“Two years?” Wilkins said. “That’s uncalled for. That is way unfair. I’ve lost clients. I’ve lost business.”
The grandmother of one of his young clients attended the parks board meeting. To her, the whole situation seems like a misunderstanding. Wilkins, she said, has been a great addition to the Old Atlanta Recreation Center and it would be “a shame to lose such an asset.”
Ritchie Anderson, coordinator for the center, told the board that Wilkins’ job performance wasn’t the issue but rather the way he spoke to employees that day.
Anderson said Wilkins felt he was being treated differently for rentals in the center’s gym, and the issue had built up over time.
According to Anderson, a new policy requires a 48-hour notice to reserve gym space, which Wilkins had not given, and he’d also had a dispute about when rentals required payment.
Wilkins countered that others were not charged for their time using the gym for the same purpose.
That day, Wilkins was arguing with an employee about the cost and reservation for gym space, Anderson said.
When Anderson stepped in, he said Wilkins made a comment more profane than what he shared with the board.
“It escalated to where the deputies had to be called because there were some comments made while he was still in the lobby,” Anderson said. “He was asked to leave, and his clients got there, and he said let’s go to the gym.”
Wilkins said he hadn’t disrespected people like that and wouldn’t because he has to “set an example” for the children he teaches.
The board requested a closed session to discuss the issue with staff members. Prior to that, member Steve Dabbs said Wilkins’ character was not being called into question.
“But we do have policies and procedures in place to protect our staff and protect the kids and people who use the facility,” Dabbs said. “I think some better judgment could have been made.”