Some rims must still rattle from the force of Chocolate Thunder. Some glass backboards have re-emerged in other forms, recycled after their destruction by Darryl Dawkins and others like him.
Dawkins died Thursday at the young age of 58 in Allentown, Pa. He left behind a highlight reel of dunks that earned him the Chocolate Thunder nickname as well as a basketball encyclopedia indexing nearly all of them by name.
He was a unique character, who at 7 feet also had things in common with two legendary big men: Moses Malone and Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal.
Dawkins was born in Orlando where Shaq began destroying rims, backboards and support structures for the Magic in the 1990s. O’Neal and Dawkins had a lot of fun along the way.
As a star at Orlando Evans High School, Dawkins led the Trojans to the Florida Class 5A state championship. One year earlier, Malone was the first player ever to go straight from high school to professional basketball. He signed with the ABA’s Utah Jazz and played in that league for two years before its merger with the NBA.
Dawkins became the first player drafted out of high school directly into the NBA when he was picked by the Philadelphia 76ers. He never won a championship during his 14-year career, but this guy had an engaging personality and was a true entertainer.
Marquee big guys like the steady Bill Russell and the flamboyant Wilt Chamberlain had retired. Too much was expected of Dawkins. He was not the next Wilt the Stilt.
Guys coming straight out of high school rarely perform at a high level right away. Kobe Bryant struggled mightily. LeBron James was the extremely rare exception.
Not surprisingly, Dawkins had a tough time his first two years. However, in his second season, the 76ers made it to the 1977 NBA Finals.
Two of Dawkins’ teammates, superstars George McGinnis and Julius “Dr. J” Erving, were powerful forces, but the Sixers’ big men had few answers for the Portland Trail Blazers’ center, Bill Walton. The Blazers won the series in six games.
By this time in his career, Dawkins had begun naming his dunks. We came to know the “In-Your-Face-Disgrace,” the “Go-Rilla,” and the “Yo-mama,” just to pick a few.
In 1979, Chocolate Thunder added some lightning. In November he became the first player to shatter the backboard in a game against the Kansas City Kings. Later that season, he did it again. The “Rim-Wrecker” was now officially part of the portfolio. The NBA threatened him with suspension if he kept doing it.
Dawkins came close to winning championships on two other occasions. His 76ers lost to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1981, then fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1982 NBA Finals.
Following the 1982 season, Dawkins was traded to the New Jersey Nets. Philadelphia acquired Malone and immediately won the 1983 championship against the Lakers. Dawkins’ NBA playing career came to an end in 1989.
Being a 76ers fan was not a prerequisite to be entertained by this 7-foot jovial giant. He had fun and fans had fun watching and listening to him. Who could dislike anyone that shifted his place of origin from Orlando to the planet Lovetron?
Basketball was his profession, but this “alien” was on earth to practice “interplanetary funkmanship” mixed with a healthy dose of dunkmanship. His Twitter page revealed the Dawkins described so often by himself and others who knew him.
“NBA legend. Don’t need to be called the real. I am the only Chocolate Thunder from the planet Lovetron, bringing funkiness to all over the world.”
He could do that without leaving us in a funk.
The final tweets from Darryl Dawkins revealed him to be deeply immersed in the Little League World Series. His last one came the day before he died, praising the Pennsylvania and Texas teams after a narrow Pennsylvania win. He predicted, “We could see you do it again Saturday.”
Chocolate Thunder’s final analysis was prescient. They will indeed play for the U.S. title on Saturday. Sadly, he won’t be there to see it.
Thanks for the memories. RIP @Thunderdunk53.