PHILADELPHIA — It would be hard to find someone who had more fun playing basketball than Darryl Dawkins.
There are few athletes who played in this town who, with the mere mention of their name, would bring a smile to your face. Chocolate Thunder, as Stevie Wonder dubbed him, was one of a kind.
There are those who say he never reached his potential. That when the Sixers made him the fifth pick in the 1975 draft, they expected greatness from him. That, we came to learn, was not in Darryl's DNA.
Dave Wohl, the Big 5 Hall of Famer out of Penn who played in the NBA and had a long coaching career in the league, wrote an article for Sports Illustrated in April 1988, subtitled, “Did Darryl Dawkins, Sir Slam, fail to live up to the great expectations of his fans and his NBA coaches? A former coach searches for answers.”
Wohl, who coached Dawkins in New Jersey, concluded that, “There were times when he teased us with a hint of how he could dominate a game. And we went home in awe and yet sad because we knew of no spell to make it happen more frequently. But few players could make us feel that way even once.”
One of those “awe” moments came on Nov. 13, 1979. Playing in Kansas City against the Kings, Dawkins brought the ball back to the “Dawkins” on the back of his uniform and slammed. Glass was flying everywhere as he shattered the backboard.
“It was such a sight,” Julius Erving, a great dunker himself, said at the time. “Glass was everywhere. (The Kings' Bill) Robinzine was under the basket and he was trying to get out of the way; he was running. And Darryl was in shock.”
“The first thing I was thinking was, ‘Oh, man, I gotta get outta here,'“ Dawkins recalled on TNT. “All this glass is coming down. It was like, ‘Feet, don't fail me now.'“
One of Dawkins' biggest dilemmas was naming the dunk, which he started doing a couple of years earlier. The Sixers were playing the Buffalo Braves and Dawkins went in for a vicious slam. One of the Buffalo players said, “What was that?” And Dawkins, after little thought, said, “Yo Momma.”
Others followed. The Heart Stopper. The Greyhound Bus (when he would go coast-to-coast). Lefthanded Spine Chiller Supreme. Dunk You Very Much. The Rim-Wrecker. The Go-rilla. In Your Face Disgrace. If You Ain't Groovin' You Best Get Movin' Dunk.
The precedent was set. A week later, Dawkins had his name: Chocolate Thunder Flyin', Glass Flyin', Robinzine Cryin', Parents Cryin', Babies Cryin', Glass Still Flyin', Rump Roastin', Bun Toastin', Thank You Wham Ma'am I Am Jam.
It took Dawkins 22 days to shatter another one.
“The fans in Philadelphia were saying, ‘Hey, you did one on the road, you gotta do one for us,'“ Dawkins said in a TNT video. “And I kept saying, ‘Nah, nah.' And they said, ‘Nah, you gotta do it.' So I seized the opportunity.”
This time, it was against the San Antonio Spurs at the Spectrum. He had just received a pass from Doug Collins, who knew what was coming.
“If you see me (in the video), I threw him the pass and I started sliding out of there because I knew he was going to try to tear it down,” Collins told TNT.
That he did. This time, unlike in Kansas City where the rim was dangling from the backboard, he tore the rim right out of the backboard.
“I moved in and I attacked the basket,” the mayor of Lovetron said. “BOOM. And this one, the whole rim came out so I had to get out of the way again.”
“He was empowered by this whole thing, the whole backboard-breaking thing,” Erving said. “And I think that kind of broke him of that habit, because he almost broke his back this time.”
Could have also been the call from the commissioner, Larry O'Brien.
Holding his hand up to his right ear, Dawkins discusses the phone call he received: “He was like, ‘Hey, this is the commissioner. Hey, I want you in my office at 9 o'clock in the morning.' I was like, ‘Uh, oh.' Larry O'Brien called me in. He said it's dangerous. ‘I want you to stop doing it and if you don't, it's going to be $5,000 every time you do it.'
The name for his last shattering dunk? The Chocolate Thunder Ain't Playin', Get Out the Wayin', Backboard Swayin', Game Delayin', Super Spike.
Because of Dawkins' pyrodunknics, breakaway rims and hydraulic backboard supports were introduced. Did Dawkins get a percentage of the royalties?
“They didn't even give me enough crumbs to make a meal,” Dawkins said.
He was always the showman, the quipster. Always having fun.
It was well known that Darryl did not have a very long attention span. And at one practice, according to Wohl, Sixers coach Billy Cunningham had had enough of Dawkins' shenanigans.
“Darryl wasn't pushing himself, so I stopped practice,” Cunningham recalled. “I went over to him and really read him the riot act. Really yelled at him. He had his head down and promised me he would do better.”
And then Cunningham broke into a big smile.
“And then as I walked away,” Cunningham said, “he tripped me. I couldn't believe it. What can you do? I finally cracked up laughing like everyone else.”
Darryl being Darryl, always leaving you with a smile.
Distributed by MCT Information Services