If you thought Darryl Dawkins was one awesome-looking human last year, wait 'til you see him now.
Dawkins, the Philadelphia 76ers' still-growing center, looks like Kojak with muscles. His shaven head, coupled with a small earring in one of his ears, gives him a menacing appearance that probably would scare fellow skinhead Earnie Shavers more than Muhammad Ali did.
Dawkins is the 76ers' main attraction, as long as Julius Erving is side-lined with an ailing knee. Despite what those barrage of Bullet newspaper ads have proclanned, Dr. J is not expected to play tonight when Philly and the Bullets tangle in the 9 p.m. second game of an exhibition double-header at Capital Centre. The Nets and knicks meet in the 7 p.m. opener.
Erving has been sidelined 20 days since colliding with Dawkins in practice. Erving still is unable to straighten his leg.
"I'm a new man with a new plan." Dawkins proclaimed yesterday, and who's to argue with the 6-foot-11, 250-pounder? He says he no longer is the player who sulked and stalked through last year's palyoffs, alternating between tearing up locker rooms and tangling with Portland's Maurice Lucas.
Even the earring has significance. It resembles a rising sun which Dawkins says is symbolic of his emergence in the league. But don't tell him he looks like Kojak.
"Not Kojak," he says. "Blackjack."
Dawkins isn't the only thing new about the 76ers. In order of importance:
George McGinnis has lost weight down to 214, rid himself of that playoff shooting slump and has married. He even cut short his honeymoon to stay in training.
The players are behaving in practices, motivated by a newly instituted fine system set up by coach Gene Shue. No more fooling around and no more funny hats and ball-handling tricks. Shue is demanding better defense.
Hardly anyone is terribly unhappy, especially among the regulars. Harvey Catchings wouldn't mind being traded and Joe Bryant reportedly is headed for forward-poor New Orleans as soon as Erving returns, but otherwise the team is as calm as Shue could hope.
But one thing is still the same. The Bullets have a terrible time keeping the 76ers in their place. They lost to Philly three times last year and already have been blown off the exhibition floor this year (Saturday night in New York, 119-99).
Coach Dick Motta is anxious to try his frontline players against Philly, but he isn't sure who will be ready for tonight. Guard Tom Henderson (ankle) and forward Bob Dandridge (knee) might be healed enough to see action but guard Phil Chenier (back) is less likely to play.
This will be the first opportunity for Bullet fans to see this season's club, which is running more than last year and has looked sharp on those occasions when Motta had enough healthy bodies to make things interesting.
It will be the team's third game in three nights. In a similar situation Saturday, the players were not rested enough to take on the likes of the 76ers. Center officials are expecting a crowd of more than 11,000.
The Knicks also have made changes, beginning with a new coach (Willis Reed), and a new style (fast break compared to deliberate); and no longer is Walt Frazier directing things in his unemotional way.
Reed has loads of players and has been giving everyone lots of playing time. Among his major reclamation projects are forward Spencer Haywood, who is coming off an injury, and center Lonnie Shelton, who was plagued with foul problems last year.He also has some flashy rookies in Glen Gondrezick (ex-Nevada-Las Vegas) and Ray Williams (ex-Minnesota), both of whom should be factors this season.