Darryl Dawkins, whose rim-shattering dunks and whimsical ways helped buoy the NBA through a period of malaise in the late 1970s and early 1980s, has passed away at 58, according to WFMZ-TV in Allentown, Pa.
The station did not report a cause of death. The Associated Press confirmed that Dawkins died Thursday morning at an unnamed hospital in Lehigh County, Pa., with an autopsy scheduled for Friday.
The NBA confirmed the news on Twitter.
SAD NEWS: Darryl Dawkins (1957-2015) One of the NBA's great dunkers, entertainers & characters passed away (age: 58). pic.twitter.com/ngx6QgOHSb
— NBA History (@NBAHistory) August 27, 2015
— NBA (@NBA) August 27, 2015
Dawkins became the first player to jump straight from high school to the NBA when the Philadelphia 76ers took him with the No. 5 pick in 1975. The 6-foot-11 center played 15 NBA seasons, mostly for the Sixers and the New Jersey Nets.
The 76ers issued a statement on Thursday.
Sixers statement on passing Darryl Dawkins pic.twitter.com/5cYBLEbYec
— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) August 27, 2015
A good-but-never-great player whose later NBA years were hampered by injuries, Dawkins rose to nationwide prominence after he broke two rims while dunking over a three-week span in November 1979, spurring the league to use breakaway rims the next season and ban hanging on the rim.
Dawkins bestowed nicknames on his dunks. The first backboard-shatterer was dubbed “The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam.” There were other nicknames: “In Your Face Disgrace,” “The Go-rilla,” “Earthquaker Shaker,” “Candyslam,” “Dunk You Very Much,” “Look Out Below,” “Yo Mama,” “Turbo Sexophonic Delight,” “Rim Wrecker,” “Greyhound Bus” (for when he went coast-to-coast), “Cover Your Head,” “Spine Chiller Supreme,” “Slam Bam Thank You Ma’am” and “Walk Away From Love.”
Darryl Dawkins was a true original and a good dude every time we ran into each other. God Bless him and his family. RIP, Chocolate Thunder.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) August 27, 2015
Dawkins — who went by Chocolate Thunder (a name bestowed, he claimed, by Stevie Wonder), Sir Slam and Dr. Dunkenstein — also claimed to be an alien from the planet Lovetron. Tom Friend of ESPN explained:
It must be difficult to be stereotyped from the age of 14, to be serially labeled a Baby Huey, a man-child, the next Wilt, a coach-killer, a cutup, a bust. You can laugh or cry about it, but for the longest time, Dawkins chose denial … and moved into an imaginary world. He called it Planet Lovetron, a place where critics, coaches and refs were not permitted. He invented this planet in high school, brought it with him to the pros, and Lovetron was how he got through the scrutiny and ridicule. …
In other words, it was all a show, an act. The Philadelphia 76ers took him fifth overall in 1975 — the first high school player to be drafted and go directly to the NBA, a year after Moses Malone made the same jump to the ABA — and he signed his contract wearing a cream suit, a top hat and a bow tie. By training camp, his hair was greased back, a la James Brown, and his dress suits were fire-engine red and Chiquita-banana yellow and even fuchsia. The veterans considered him a nut job — better that than have them think he was scared — but the team’s second-round pick, Lloyd B. Free out of Brooklyn, was dying to know more.
“I said, ‘Darryl, what’s all that stuff in your hair?'” Free remembers. “And he said, ‘No, I’m cool, I’m cool, I’m from Lovetron.’ So I wondered where that place was. I said, ‘Darryl, we’re going to a party; you want to go?’ He said, ‘Yeah, bro, let’s go, let’s do this thing.’ I said, ‘Yo, I’m going to come get you in three hours,’ and he had on a lime green outfit. Looked like a big leprechaun. I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, Darryl, I’m not going to the club with you looking like that,’ and Darryl said, ‘No, I’m cool.’ And he had on green shoes! I couldn’t believe it. If you turned the lights out, you’d still see Darryl walking around.”
Among the other highlights of that Friend story:
— Dawkins once hurt his shoulder because he always carried around a 70-pound boombox.
— He would eat chocolate bars on the bench as a rookie, drawing the ire of Sixers Coach Gene Shue.
— During the 1980 NBA Finals, Sixers Coach Billy Cunningham took a call from an angry sneaker executive who said Dawkins was wearing a Nike shoe on one foot and a Pony shoe on the other. He had signed a contract with both.
— His love for kids was legendary. One summer, he worked at 85 basketball camps.
— His best statistical season was with the Nets in 1983-84, when he averaged 16.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He also averaged 4.7 fouls per game, a record that still stands. His relationship with the refs was legendarily bad.
— He shot 57.2 percent for his career, seventh all-time in NBA history.
After his playing career ended, Dawkins briefly played with the Harlem Globetrotters before coaching in basketball’s minor leagues and at a community college in Pennsylvania. He also did nonprofit work for the NBA.