Last week, Daryl Dawkins, a true basketball legend unexpectedly passed away.
Daryl Dawkins was only 58 years old and died of an apparent heart attack. I didn't quite know how to digest this news. It's a real bummer that he passed away, but why was I letting it effect me? I didn't know him personally, I was just a big fan of his. I took the weekend to let it all sink in. I've come to the conclusion that, it upset me so much because he was one of the primary reasons I got into to basketball. I can remember being a young kid, maybe 8 or 9 years old, and starting to get heavily into basketball. This was right around the time that one of my all time favorite players, Shawn Kemp, was at the peak of his game. He was leading the Sonics to 50 plus win seasons and deep runs in the playoffs. What I liked so much about Kemp was how ferociously he dunked a basketball. He attacked the rim with fervor. That rim was going to bear the brunt of Kemp's anger. I loved it. My father, who was my basketball coach all the way up to high school, told me that if I liked Shawn Kemp and dunking so much, I needed to watch this former player, Daryl Dawkins. At that time, I thought, oh, this is just some old player my dad likes and he will show me how fundamentally sound he was as a player, and while he may be able to dunk, there's no way he'd be on Shawn Kemp's level. I couldn't have been more wrong. With my dad being the coolest person I know, he showed me videos of Daryl Dawkins shattering backboards. There was no fundamental talk, or coach speak coming from him, he wanted to show me who the first, true ferocious dunker they had in the NBA. For all the power Kemp brought to dunking, he was not on Daryl Dawkins level. I'd never seen a backboard shatter before. I had heard about it, but seeing it on a taped VHS video was insanely awesome. I couldn't believe that a player could do that.
Not only did my father want to show me videotapes of Daryl Dawkins, but I also learned from him that, Dawkins went straight to the NBA out of high school, much like Shawn Kemp did. This was way before the Kevin Garnett's, Kobe Bryant's and LeBron James of the world were doing it. Going to the pros straight from high school was a very foreign concept until about 15 years ago. The fact that Daryl Dawkins was ABA and NBA ready at the age of 18 is incredible. Basketball back then was rough and a grown mans game. Some 18 year old punk kid didn't belong in the league. Well, Dawkins and Moses Malone changed that idea. Instead of playing in the ABA, Dawkins renounced his NCAA eligibility and declared for the 1975 NBA draft. He was the fifth overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers(this was when they weren't a joke of a franchise). He was so big and grown looking, that Walt Frazier, according to Wikipedia, said that he bets his high school teachers called him, "Mr. Daryl". That's insane. His first two years in the league were tough because he was so raw. He had huge expectations, but it takes players, especially 18 year old kids, to develop. Remember, Kobe and Garnett weren't stars right away either. But, by his third season, he was getting regular minutes and earned respect from former NBA legends like, Julius Erving, Doug Collins and World B Free. They were all on the same team too. The following season, Dawkins was part of a nucleus that led the 76ers to the Finals, which they lost in 6 games to the Lakers. He averaged 14 points, and almost 9 rebounds a game. That may not sound like a lot, but when you remember who his teammates were, that's pretty damn impressive. This was also the season that saw him shatter his first backboard. It was so amazing and had never been seen before, that he earned what might be the coolest nickname of all time in any sport. Teammates and opponents began to call him, "Chocolate Thunder". Damn, that's a kick ass nickname. He shattered another backboard that same season and the NBA made a rule that if you shatter the board, you'd be fined and suspended. That was a stupid rule.
Dawkins became so famous for his dunks, he started naming them. Some of the names were, "The Rim Wrecker" and the "Look Out Below". He was so innovative and cool. If he had played in today's NBA, he'd be ultra famous. Unfortunately for him and the 76ers, their postseasons were met with facing hall of famers. They lost to a Laker team led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and they consistently faced the famous Larry Bird led Celtic teams. It was never easy for them. Dawkins was eventually traded to the Houston Rockets for Moses Malone. The year he was traded, the 76ers won the title, led by Moses Malone. After half a season in Houston, Dawkins joined the Nets. He played well for two seasons, but then injuries crept up on his body. He tried to make several comebacks, but he was never the electric player that he was while on the 76ers. He even played for the Harlem Globetrotters, spent time overseas and coached for awhile, but all us basketball fans remember him shattering backboards while playing in Philadelphia. So, when the news came of his death, as I said earlier, I was upset. I had heard him just recently on Bill Simmons former podcast, "The BS Report" during All Star Weekend and he sounded like he was in good health. I guess it goes to show, you never know what is going to happen.
Daryl Dawkins was a great, legendary basketball player and dunker. He was eccentric, smart and a star in his short career. I love that my father showed me those videos and I'm so happy that I got to see him shatter those backboards. He had the coolest nickname of all time too. You will be missed "Chocolate Thunder", and I hope you're shattering backboards wherever you are right now.
Rest In Peace.
Ty is the Pop Culture editor for SeedSing and co host of the X Millennial Man. He named his biggest dunk The Duece. Follow Ty on twitter @tykulik.