Before Kobe and LeBron there was Chocolate Thunder

One of the great entertainers in NBA history died today. Darryl Dawkins, at the age of 58, passed way in Pennsylvania because of a heart attack. Simply put, Dawkins was the most outrageous, entertaining, fun loving, arrogant-confident, crowd pleaser, look-at-me-y’all NBA player in the era before Magic and Bird rebranded the league. He was crazy enough to name his dunks. He was iconic enough to have Stevie Wonder give him the nickname, Chocolate Thunder. He was smart enough to realize the league was in need of personalities to counter the image of a league too black and too drug crazy. He was skilled enough to be drafted in the first round out of high school. Every athlete that comes into a pro league wants to make his mark. Darryl Dawkins ala Chocolate Thunder did more than make his mark, he slammed and jammed his way into NBA history and hearts.

What everyone remembers were those massive dunks. Routinely, Darryl Dawkins shattered the backboards with his massive jams which were assualts against the rim and glass. His dunks were pre-LeBron James spectacular power. The first time he made mincemeat of a backboard the 76ers were in Kansas City playing the Kings. It was 1979. When he shattered the backboard members of the Kings scattered for cover, particularly Kings forward Bill Robinzine.

In San Antonio, he repeated it again, almost a month later, shattering another backboard. That caused the NBA to act: breaking a backboard would result in a fine or a suspension.

Always the entertainer, Dawkins named that first dunk that shattered the backboard in Kansas City The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying-Robinzine-Crying Teeth-Shaking-Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun Toasting, Wham-Bam-Glass-Breaking-I-Am-Jam.

Other names were just as hysterical. The Rim-Wrecker. The Go-Rilla. The Look Out Below. The Cover Your Head. The Yo-Mama. The Spine-Chiller Supreme, the Greyhound Special and my personal favorite, the In-Your-Face-Disgrace.

Dawkins nicknames were Chocolate Thunder, Sir Slam and Dr. Dunkenstein. Dawkins loved to talk about how he was an alien from the planet Lovetron where he practiced his funk moves in the off-season and his girlfriend was Juicy Lucy.

There was something singular about how Dawkins approached the NBA. Although he was pegged as Wilt-like he never lived up to that billing but he didn’t disappoint with his theatrics. Given the nickname Chocolate Thunder by blind Stevie Wonder, he was a walking fan magnet who wanted a glimpse of what he could do when he had the ball close to the rim.

“People don’t want to believe it- a guy who never saw me gave me the name Chocolate Thunder.”

Back in the days when Dawkins was in high school, non-college players could only apply to the league for hardship reasons. You were in a financial situation where you needed to work. He was taken with the 5th pick in the draft. His opponents were in awe of his size (6-11, 260), his explosiveness and his skill. The expectations were through the roof but he told the New York Daily News, “they wanted me to be Wilt Chamberlain. I couldn’t be Wilt. I wasn’t that tall.”

His first year he was on the bench but he made people take notice when he was forced to guard Bill Walton in the NBA Finals in his second year. The 76ers lost the series in six games but Dawkins made his presence felt. When he was 21, he was the one the 76ers looked for off the bench to rebound and score and give them a good 25 minutes. The 76ers made it to the Eastern Conference Finals that year but lost to the Washington Bullets. In 1978, the 76ers traded George McGinnis, their starting power forward, to give Dawkins ample opportunity at forward and center. His career in Philly lasted 7 years; he averaged 11 points and 6 rebounds. He began piling up injuries and was traded to New Jersey for a number one pick. With New Jersey for 5 years, he averaged 14 points and 7 rebounds before the injuries reduced him to an aging player that couldn’t compete on the NBA stage.

After he retired, he played for the Harlem Globetrotters and in Italy and remained popular as those grandiose dunks remained etched in the memory of fans as did his big people loving, exuberant, personality. He was constantly swarmed by fans who wanted him to talk about the Yo-Mama dunk or the Go-Rilla dunk.

His family released this statement.

“It is with great sadness that we share the passing of our beloved husband and father, Darryl Dawkins, who succumbed today to a heart attack. Darryl touched the hearts and spirits of so many with his big smile and personality, ferocious dunks but more than anything, his huge, loving heart.”


photo via llananba