Darryl R. Dawkins (January 11, 1957 – August 27, 2015) was an American professional basketball player. He was particularly known for his tenure with the National Basketball Association‘s Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets, although he also played briefly for the Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz late in his career. His nickname, “Chocolate Thunder”, was bestowed upon him by Stevie Wonder. He was known for his powerful dunks, which led to the NBA adopting breakaway rims due to him shattering a backboard on two occasions in 1979.
Dawkins averaged double figures in scoring nine times in his 14 years in the NBA, often ranking among the league leaders in field-goal percentage. He also played in the NBA Finals three times as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Dawkins set an NBA record for fouls in a season (386 in 1983–84).
As a 6’10 senior at Maynard Evans High School in Orlando, Florida, Dawkins averaged 32 points and 21 rebounds to lead his team to the state championship. He was heavily recruited by Division I colleges across the country, and he narrowed his choices to Florida State, Kansas, and Kentucky.
In a surprise move, Dawkins opted to directly enter the NBA draft out of high school instead of attending college. He made this decision because he wanted to make enough money to help his grandmother, mother and siblings to escape poverty. He was the first player to enter the NBA immediately after high school.
With the fifth overall pick in the 1975 NBA draft, the Philadelphia 76ers selected Dawkins. He was drafted behind David Thompson, David Meyers, Marvin Webster, and Alvan Adams. He signed a seven-year contract worth $1 million.
Dawkins languished on the Sixers’ bench for his first two seasons. In his second season, after playing limited minutes during the regular season, Dawkins was called upon to help the Sixers in their playoff run, to battle Dave Cowens of the Celtics and Moses Malone of the Rockets. The Sixers won both playoff series and advanced to the NBA Finals. Matched up against Portland’sBill Walton, Dawkins helped the Sixers take the first two games before the Trail Blazers won the next four to win the series in six games. In the second game of the series, Dawkins got into a fight with Maurice Lucas, resulting in both players being ejected. Dawkins took his anger out on the 76ers locker room by tearing a toilet out of the wall and dislodging a locker stall and barricading the door with it.
Dawkins’ role in helping the Sixers win the Eastern Conference championship established him as one of Philadelphia’s top players, on a team that included Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Lloyd Free, and Doug Collins. Now 20 years old, Dawkins was averaging 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds in nearly 25 minutes per game, while also ranked second in the league in field goal percentage at .575. For the second straight year, the Sixers earned the top seed in the Eastern Division and advanced to the conference finals, but they were defeated by the Washington Bullets in six games.
Prior to the 1978–79 season Philadelphia traded McGinnis to the Denver Nuggets, clearing way for Dawkins to be a permanent front court starter. Over the next three seasons Dawkins and Caldwell Jones split time at the center and power forward positions. In 1979–80 he averaged 14.7 points and a career-high 8.7 rebounds, helping the Sixers back to the NBA Finals, which they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
In the 1981 season Dawkins produced a .607 field-goal percentage, second in the NBA to Artis Gilmore‘s .670. Dawkins averaged 14 points and 7.2 rebounds for the year, but Philadelphia failed to return to the Finals. The club met the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and lost in seven games.
The 76ers suffered another postseason disappointment in 1982 when they reached the Finals but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. Frustrated with the team’s inability to handle Lakers’ center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sixers management traded Dawkins to the New Jersey Nets and Caldwell Jones to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Moses Malone, who helped Philadelphia win the NBA Championship the following year.