Dead. Darryl Dawkins, born January 11, 1957 and died August 27, 2015, he was a retired American professional basketball player, most noted for his days with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets, although he also played briefly for the Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz late in his career.
His nickname, “Chocolate Thunder”, was bestowed upon him by Stevie Wonder. He was known for his powerful dunks, which notably led to the NBA adopting breakaway rims due to him shattering the backboard on two occasions in 1979.
Dawkins averaged double figures in scoring nine times in his 14 years in the NBA, often ranking among the league leaders in field-goal percentage.
He also played in the NBA Finals three times as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
On the flip side, Dawkins set an NBA record for fouls in a season (386 in 1983–84), and he never quite lived up to the expectations that had been heaped upon him when he was drafted out of high school.
“Many of us will judge him solely on what he could have been,” said Dave Wohl, who played against (and coached) Dawkins in Sports Illustrated.
“Too many will be blinded by the flashes of brilliance that never materialized into consistent greatness. 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.”
Hoping to follow in Malone’s footsteps, the 18-year-old Dawkins renounced his college eligibility and applied for the 1975 NBA draft as a hardship candidate.
The Philadelphia 76ers made him the fifth overall pick, behind David Thompson, David Meyers, Marvin Webster, and Alvan Adams. According to the New York Daily News, when Dawkins made his debut with the 76ers, New York Knicks guard Walt Frazier took one look and said, “I bet his teachers called him ‘Mr. Darryl.'”
With his size, speed, and touch, Dawkins was expected to take over the league. But he handled the expectations in typical fashion. “When I walked into the league, they wanted me to be Wilt Chamberlain right away—without one minute of college ball,” he told The Daily News. “I can’t be Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt is much taller than me.”
A raw talent who needed time to develop, Dawkins languished on the Sixers’ bench for his first two seasons. As a rookie in 1975–76 he played in only 37 games, averaging 2.4 points in 4.5 minutes per game.
The next year he played a limited role during the regular season but began to emerge during the playoffs. The Sixers advanced all the way to the NBA Finals that year, and Dawkins was called upon to help battle Portland’s Bill Walton.
The Trail Blazers won the series in six games, but Dawkins earned respect among the Philadelphia coaching staff with 7.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest in the postseason.
In the 1977–78 season Dawkins finally found a regular role, coming off the bench for nearly 25 minutes per game. Now a robust 20 years old, he averaged 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds and ranked second in the league in field-goal percentage at .575.
With a club that included Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Lloyd Free, and Doug Collins, the Sixers made another solid postseason run, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the Washington Bullets in six games.
Prior to the 1978–79 season Philadelphia traded McGinnis to the Denver Nuggets for Bobby Jones and Ralph Simpson. The move was made in part to clear space for Dawkins on the Sixers’ front line, which also included 6-foot-11 Caldwell Jones.
Over the next three seasons Dawkins and Caldwell Jones split time at the center and power forward positions, and Dawkins had the most productive stretch of his career.
In 1979–80 he averaged 14.7 points and a career-high 8.7 rebounds, helping the Sixers back to the NBA Finals, which they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.