My standing New Year’s resolution is to make everything I do funky. I never quite accomplish it – it is an aspirational guide, not an item on a to-do list – and neither does any other human being. But some people come closer than others, and Darryl Dawkins’ lifetime percentage was among the highest.
Darryl is reported to have died yesterday, though I suspect that he really just returned to his home planet, Lovetron. In truth he always seemed a little out of place in this modern world of ours, being as he was the living embodiment of the glory that was basketball in the 70s.
Things were a little looser, a little…well, yes…funkier back then. Darryl Dawkins came into the NBA fresh out of high school in 1975. Within a few years he had acquired the nickname “Chocolate Thunder,” a truly amazing collection of suits (fire-engine red, banana yellow, fuchsia, lime green, etc.) and a well-deserved reputation as a loose cannon. He never listened much to his coaches, just did what he wanted to do, for better and for worse. One of the things he wanted to do was to dunk with all the force his 6-foot-11, 255-pound frame could muster.
Darryl’s defining moment came in 1979, in Kansas City. He went up to dunk over the Kings’ Bill Robinzine and the backboard shattered, showering everyone in the vicinity with broken glass. In retrospect this marked a turning point in professional basketball history – the moment when goofing around turned a corner into real chaos. Backboard-shattering made for great theater, but it also delayed the game for an hour so while highly paid professional athletes picked shards of glass out of their afros. The league simply could not have that, and so installed rules and then rims designed to keep the backboard intact. By choosing practicality over excitement, they began the process that made pro ball the relatively decorous spectacle we see today.
Chocolate Thunder, meanwhile, was delighted with what he had wrought. He named that dunk the “If You Ain’t Groovin’ Best Get Movin’, Chocolate Thunder Flyin’, Robinzine Cryin’, Teeth Shakin’, Glass Breakin’, Rump Roastin’, Bun Toastin’, Glass Still Flyin’, Wham Bam I Am Jam!” A few days later, he broke another backboard, this time for the home fans in Philadelphia.
It was all pretty much downhill from there. Darryl’s career extended well into the 80s, and he had some good years, but he never developed into the generation-defining superstar he could have been. He was ultimately a disappointment as a basketball player; but as a human being, he was by all accounts a warm and delightful person who was generous with his time and money. Say what you will, the man had style. We shall not see his like again. Lovetron forever.