He was never an All-Star. He never made an All-NBA team. Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins, though, was a legend in his own right. Not only was he the first player to go straight from high school into the first round of the NBA draft, he was a Philadelphia cultural icon, representing everything classic and cliche about the 1970s.
Despite his early death on Aug. 27 from a heart attack at the age of 58, Dawkins is an immortal figure in the minds of all fans who love dunks, which, in all honesty, is probably everyone. While Dawkins was never well-known for his stats (he averaged 17 points and game in his career-best season), he had his fair share of iconic moments. He dunked the ball with such force and such creativity that he shattered the backboard not once, but twice, naming the first dunk “The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam.”
Names like that represent the essence of Darryl Dawkins and his Chocolate Thunder persona. He claimed to hail from “Planet Lovetron” and backed it up with an undeniably funky way of dressing, often times appearing in a bright red suit accented with a bright and cheery smile. That was Chocolate Thunder: always smiling, always loving the game.
Teaming up with Julius Erving — better known as Dr. J — for a large part of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Dawkins and the Philadelphia 76ers played in three NBA Finals, unfortunately falling short all three times. After playing with the Sixers for seven seasons, the 1982 Finals saw Dawkins and Dr. J fall in six games to Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Los Angeles Lakers. After yet another loss, Philadelphia management decided to switch things up and traded away Dawkins to the New Jersey Nets. Unfortunately, the following season the Sixers would end up winning the title over the same Lakers team in a four-game sweep. Dawkins, who battled through a severe injury that kept him away from the game for his final years, finished his career without an NBA title. Dawkins’ career seemed average from the outside; he was never the recipient of multiple accolades or the best player on a championship team. But he was a player whose energy and enthusiasm made everyone enjoy the game. He was also an incredibly efficient player, often finishing in the top five in field goal percentage.
But what made Dawkins truly special, beyond just his dunks and his neon suits, was his swagger. He seemed to just dunk the ball so creatively and with such ease that it made you wonder why no one else could do it. But he also did it with such power that he brought force to an NBA that struggled with its popularity in the late ‘70s. Those Sixers teams, led by Dawkins and Dr. J, were able to bring life to the NBA with their flash and style. They were the dunk brothers before nicknames for those kinds of duos existed. Dr. J with his athleticism and hang time, Dawkins with his sheer power and creativity.
After his two backboard-breaking dunks, the NBA fined and suspended Dawkins and made a structural change to the rims to prevent them from getting pulled down from the backboard. But it was hard to be mad at Darryl Dawkins. He was just a man with a childish spirit in the best way. The excitement he brought to the game, all the way from Planet Lovetron, was unique, and it is something the NBA misses to this day.
The league, along with every fan who remembers Chocolate Thunder, misses that flavor and excitement. But he is still with us. Every ball dunked hard enough to break the backboard — that’s Darryl Dawkins. Efficiently and powerfully scoring buckets down low — that’s Darryl Dawkins. He may be gone, but he is far from forgotten, and it is only fitting that thunder never makes a quiet exit.
Paolo Santamaria is a sophomore in the College. Saxa Synergy appears every Friday.
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