He spent his off-seasons on the planet Lovetron where he practiced “interplanetary funkmanship.” He was not the first NBA player who became famous for his ability to dunk a basketball–that honor belonged to his teammate Julius Erving. But Darryl Dawkins was the first player to build an entire career on the dunk. His game was one-dimensional, but it was sure exciting to watch.
Darryl Dawkins died today at the age of fifty-eight. Most sportswriters and sports historians think that his career was a disappointment. It probably was. But few players were more entertaining and eccentric.
I remember how excited I was when Dawkins was traded to the New Jersey Nets before 1982-83 season. That was a great Nets team–Otis Birdsong, Buck Williams, Albert King, Michael Ray Richardson, Sleepy Floyd, Jan Van Breda-Koff, Len Elmore, Foots Walker, Phil Ford, and Mike O’Koren. They were coached by Larry Brown.
That Nets team finished the year 49-33 and suffered a disappointing loss to the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. As a teenager I would check the TV Guide each week to see when WWOR-TV was showing the next Nets game. With Dawkins on the floor there was always the chance of seeing a broken backboard. Steve Albert did the play-by-play and Bill Raferty, the former head coach at Seton Hall, did the color commentary.
And then there were the names of Dawkins’s dunks. My favorites were “The Rim Wrecker,” “The Left-Handed Spine Chiller Supreme,” and the “Yo Mama.” During high school our neighbors had an eight foot-high backboard over their garage, the perfect height for us to dunk on. We had no idea how to distinguish the different Dawkins dunks, but that did not stop us from yelling the name of the specific dunk we were performing as we drove to the rim and flushed the ball home. (Eventually we had to stop this activity because our neighbors did not like all the black basketball smears on their garage door).
Every now and then I try to relive those days in my own driveway:
Rest in peace, Darryl. I hope you can now spend more time with Juicy Luicy on Lovetron.
David Moore says
What's with wearing the name tag at home? Do your wife and kids not know your name?
John Fea says
Actually, I just came back from church where I was teaching a course on American evangelicalism.
Paul Harvey says
I used to relive those too, John — except it was on those 6 foot goals that were stationed on the sides of the court at the downtown YMCA at Valpo. I bet Schwehn one time, looking straight at the real goal, that I could do a 360 dunk; he took me up on it; turned around and dunked on the 6 footer. He laughed for like 5 minutes, great moment of my comedic basketball life.
Based on comments on news stories on Dawkins, he apparently was a really witty guy in real life. That was a fun era of basketball, ABA still around, players not yet so branded, etc.
John Fea says
Paul: That's a hilarious story. I can picture the Schwehn laugh.
D G says
John, how tall was the ladder you used in the photo?
John Fea says
Ladder? What ladder?