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Darryl Dawkins, the NBA’s First Premier Power Dunker, Dies at Age 58



On Thursday the basketball world lost a true showman on the court as Darryl Dawkins, a 14-year NBA veteran died of a heart attack at age 58.

Best known for his powerful dunks, Dawkins was the first player straight from high school to be drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft. Drafted fifth overall by the Philadelphia 76ers, Dawkins averaged 12 points and six rebounds per game for four teams during his career. In nine of those years, Dawkins averaged double digits in points with his best season coming as part of the New Jersey Nets when he scored 16.8 points per game during the 1983-84 NBA season.

“The NBA family is heartbroken by the sudden and tragic passing of Darryl Dawkins,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “We will always remember Darryl for his incredible talent, his infectious enthusiasm and his boundless generosity. He played the game with passion, integrity and joy, never forgetting how great an influence he had on his legions of fans, young and old.”

Dawkins or “Chocolate Thunder”, the nickname given to him by R&B legend Stevie Wonder, attended Maynard Evans High School in Orlando, Florida where he led his team to a state championship in 1975. He applied for the entry into the NBA Draft citing hardship and was drafted by the 76ers but was mostly at the end of Philadelphia’s bench during his first two seasons. However his 6’11”, 251 lb. pond frame was not made to be on the bench and the Sixers began moving Dawkins into the spotlight. He helped lead Philadelphia to three NBA Finals appearances during his time in the City of Brotherly Love.

Upon getting traded to New Jersey in 1982, many saw Dawkins as the missing piece to a team with names like Buck Williams and Otis Birdsong already on the roster. Unfortunately injuries began to hamper Dawkins during his stay in New Jersey although he did have his career year with New Jersey as the team made two playoff appearances, including the franchise’s first playoff series win.. Injuries stacked up and Dawkins was out of the NBA in 1989. Dawkins had two failed comebacks in 1994 and 1995 but his career continued overseas in Italy for five years and he even played with the historic Harlem Globetrotters for one season.

However let’s be honest when we hear the name Darryl Dawkins, we think dunks and as Shaquille O’Neal once said, “Darryl Dawkins is the father of power dunking.” His first “power dunk” occurred back in 1979 when Dawkins tore down the backboard against the Kansas City Kings. Not to outdo himself, he did it again in Philadelphia just weeks later and due to this the NBA instituted a new rule that would fine and suspend players who broke backboards.  Dawkins even named his dunks with his first rim shattering dunk being called “The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam.”

His later years saw Dawkins begin to coach, first with Newark Express of the American Basketball Association. While his coaching career did not lead him back to a major college or the NBA, the legend of “Chocolate Thunder” continued to grow as current NBA players looked at Dawkins as a legend and many saw him a mentor for them. Players like Magic Johnson, Allen Iverson, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant took to Twitter on Thursday to show their respect to Dawkins.

Dawkins is survived by his wife and his three children. In a statement, the family stated that Dawkins was as good a person as everyone thought he was and then some.

“Darryl touched the hearts and spirits of so many with his big smile and personality, ferocious dunks, but more than anything, his huge, loving heart,” his family said in a statement. “His family, wife Janice, children Dara, Tabitha, Nicholas and Alexis, along with countless family, friends, and fans, all mourn his loss. 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.”

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Kahlil Thomas

Kahlil is the College Sports Editor for as well as a columnist, hosting the Bump 'N Run column once per week. He also co-hosts a weekly basketball podcast, The Box Out, every Thursday evening with fellow writer Jason Cordner.
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