Darryl Dawkins Q + A
A conversation with the OG NBA showman.
by Michael Romyn / @michael_romyn
In 1975, Darryl Dawkins made the then-rare leap from high school to the NBA. Blessed with extraordinary athleticism and a monolithic frame, the 18-year-old manchild was expected to make the League his own; to dominate like Wilt did; to be Shaq before Shaq.
For whatever reason (lack of dedication or simply a lack of ability?), Chocolate Thunder would never live up to the hype. Instead, Dawkins turned in a solid, but statistically unassuming 14-year NBA career, punctuated by a slew of legacy-defining dunks.
Ever the showman, Dawkins reveled in his emphatic artistry. He created names for the slams he was particularly fond of and, after shattering two backboards in the same season, dubbed himself “The Master of Disaster.”
These days, Dawkins coaches (most recently at Lehigh Carbon Community College) and travels the world as an ambassador for the NBA, a role in which he is well suited. His warmth, energy and enthusiasm are boundless; when faced with Dawkins, even the dourest old grouch would be hard pressed to contain a smile.
As part of his globetrotting duties, Dawkins recently paid a visit to London, where he talked about his playing days, pizza and busting backboards.
SLAM: You were drafted out of high school by the 76ers. As an 18-year-old, how did you find the transition to the pros?
Darryl Dawkins: When I came out of high school I had good people around me. I had Freddy Carter, LeRoy Ellis, World B. Free, Joe Bryant, even Doug Collins. I just knew to stay out of trouble, come to practice, go home, and take care of myself. Back then, we also had agents that took care of your money. My mother and my pastor were my first two agents. I do think by going to college for at least one year you get some kind of knowledge of what lies ahead. I had no idea what was coming at me, but my mother kept my feet on the ground so it worked out for me.
SLAM: What’s your opinion of the NBA’s minimum-age rule?
DD: I think it’s a good call. For some players it’s better to take that one year and learn what’s coming at them. Money, fame, everything’s coming at them real fast. I didn’t have a chance to really see what was coming at me because my mother was on me so hard, she would say, “You’re going to do what you’re supposed to do and then come home.”
SLAM: So you lived with your mother as a rookie?
DD: No, I bought my mother a home when I came to Philadelphia, and that’s when Doug Collins, World B. Free, Freddy Carter and those guys kept me under their wing and said, “This is the way we do it here.” That really helped me.
SLAM: In Philadelphia you played with one of the all-time greats in Julius Erving…
DD: You know what, Doctor J was always a good leader and always a good person. If anyone says anything bad about him, they’ve got the wrong person. He was always good to me. I also played with George McGinnis and World B. Free. We just had a good group of guys that all huddled together and took care of each other.
SLAM: You made the NBA Finals three times with those Sixers teams. Do you still think about how close you came to winning a championship?
DD: We didn’t win it but I know greater players than me that never got a chance to play in the Finals, so I felt very fortunate. You know what, to be able to play in three NBA Finals when guys – great guys – never got there, at least I was there. When you’re playing in the NBA Finals it means all the other teams are sitting at home watching you play. There are only two teams and only one winner, but I was fortunate enough to get there.
SLAM: The 1977 Finals with the Trail Blazers was a particularly memorable series…
DD: It was epic. We had an all-out brawl in one game, me and (Maurice) Lucas. Since then Lucas has passed on and I wish his family well. But we winded up being buddies after that fight. But that’s the difference between today and yesteryear, if you got in a fight with a guy then, you wound up being buddies, but if you get in a fight today with a guy, you’re mad at each other for a lifetime. But that was a good series. They played more run ‘n gun and we played more half court. Good series.
SLAM: What was the difference in the series?
DD: Well you know, you don’t point the blame at nobody. We had George McGinnis and he struggled a little bit in that series and they played like they had nothing to lose and we played like we had everything to lose. They won it, they deserved to win it, and that’s the way it goes.
SLAM: What was it like to match-up against Bill Walton?
DD: I loved playing against Bill Walton, man. If you played against him for five minutes you learn more than if you played against somebody else for 20 minutes. And I always managed to get a few dunks on him, so I liked playing against him. He was surrounded by guys that understood the game, who would cut and get the ball.
SLAM: You mentioned the brawl. Is it true that after being ejected you took your frustration out on a toilet?
DD: Hey, the toilet came off the wall in my hands! Accidents happen, you know. I was pretty mad because I got in a fight and all your teammates are not really coming to help you. But I was young then and you had to learn how to control your emotions when you’re playing basketball. I learned, I was in the school of hard knocks.
SLAM: But you played in the next game, which would never happen today.
DD: Yeah , but I got fined for it. Today you would be fined more severely but they make more money today. I’m not against guys making more money, I like to see guys making money, but just remember you have to entertain the crowd. The fans come to be entertained, they don’t come just to see a basketball game all the time, you have to do a little more than everybody else, not just shoot, run and jump.
SLAM: How physical was the game back then compared to today?
DD: It was a whole lot more physical. We beat on each other a whole lot, but after the game we were all hanging together.
SLAM: You played in Europe toward the end of your career…
DD: I played in Italy for seven years and I really did enjoy it. The funny thing is, I never eat pizza unless I’m in Italy. But to live in a different country and learn a different culture, as well as play basketball, is unbelievable.
SLAM: Let’s talk about dunking for a second. The League took a pretty hard line after you started breaking backboards, right?
DD: Yeah, they passed a rule that I couldn’t break anymore backboards, but it was probably more for the safety side of things because of all that glass falling. It was a little dangerous for myself. But the first time I broke a backboard was an accident, the second time I had to see if I could do it.
SLAM: Do you think you could break one of today’s NBA backboards?
DD: I think so. I think these rims will still break, but from the side not from the front, they give too much at the front. From the side they may break.
SLAM: Was it your goal to break the backboard every time you dunked?
DD: No, my goal was to dunk it so hard that no one wanted to challenge me. If they stuck their hand up I wanted their hand to break or fall on the floor. I didn’t want anybody jumping up there to block it.
SLAM: And you named your dunks…
DD: Yeah, I had the “Yo-Mama,” the “Get-Out-of-the-Waying, Backboard-Swaying, Game-Delaying, If-You-Ain’t-Grooving-You-Best-Get-Moving,” “The Heart-Stopper,” “The Rim-Wrecker.” I had a lot of fun.
SLAM: You were the consummate entertainer.
DD: I certainly was. I was marketing myself before marketing was popular.