Darryl Dawkins, NBA’s ‘Chocolate Thunder’ Dunker, Dies at 58

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Darryl Dawkins

Sixers Darryl Dawkins hammers another dunk shot through the net to score against the Atlanta Hawks in an NBA playoff game, in this April 15, 1980 file photo, in Philadelphia.

Photographer: Rusty Kennedy/AP Photo

Darryl Dawkins, who was the first high school player to go straight to the National Basketball Association and became known for his backboard-shattering dunks, has died. He was 58.

Dawkins died Thursday at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pennsylvania, according to an e-mailed statement from the Lehigh County Coroner’s Office. The cause was a heart attack, his family said in a statement from the NBA.

Dawkins, who was nicknamed “Chocolate Thunder” and claimed to hail from the Planet Lovetron, played in the league for 14 seasons, including his first seven with the Philadelphia 76ers. He was 18 when the team selected him out of high school with the fifth pick of the 1975 draft.

The 6-foot-11 Dawkins became most famous for his slam dunks, which he gave names such as “In-Your-Face Disgrace,” “Look Out Below,” “Rim-Wrecker,” “Go-Rilla,” “Spine Chiller Supreme” and “Cover Your Head.”

Dawkins made NBA history in November 1979 by shattering a glass backboard with a dunk against Bill Robinzine of the Kansas City Kings. He called that dunk the “Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam.”

One month after that dunk, Dawkins shattered a backboard and pulled down the rim in the Philadelphia Spectrum during a game against the San Antonio Spurs. Afterward, then-NBA Commissioner Larry O’Brien informed Dawkins that every time he broke a backboard, he’d owe the league $5,000.

“It wasn’t really a safe thing to do,” Dawkins said, according to a 2007 article in the New York Times. “But it was a Darryl Dawkins thing to do.”

Basketball backboards today are made of shatterproof materials and have collapsible rims in part because of Dawkins’s ferocious dunking ability.

Dawkins played alongside players such as Julius Erving, World B. Free and Doug Collins in Philadelphia and lost three times in the NBA Finals. He left the 76ers after the 1981-82 season, going on to play for the New Jersey Nets, Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons.

Dawkins averaged 12 points and 6.1 rebounds a game over his NBA playing career, which ended after the 1988-89 season. He later had a brief stint with the Harlem Globetrotters and then played a season in the Continental Basketball Association before getting into coaching at the semi-pro and college level.

“We’ve lost a dear friend and an iconic figure, both on and off the court,” Scott O’Neil, the chief executive officer of the 76ers, said in an e-mailed statement. “His endearing charm, infectious smile and unparalleled sense of humor will be sorely missed. ‘Chocolate Thunder’ will always have a special place in our hearts.”

Darryl Dawkins was born Jan. 11, 1957, in Orlando, Florida, according to Basketball-Reference.com. His mother was Harriet Dawkins. His father left home when Dawkins was very young, the player said, according to a 1976 article in the Atlanta Constitution.

He attended Maynard Evans High School in Orlando, where he led the basketball team to an 82-12 record in three seasons and averaged 26 points a game his senior year, according to a Los Angeles Times article in 1976.

“More than anything Darryl accomplished in his basketball career as the inimitable ‘Chocolate Thunder,’ he was most proud of his role and responsibility as a husband and father,” his family said in the statement.

His survivors include his wife, Janice, and four children, Dara, Tabitha, Nicholas and Alexis, according to the family statement.

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