Darryl Dawkins, the former NBA standout known as “Chocolate Thunder” has died at the age of 58, according to multiple reports.
Dawkins played in the NBA from 1975 to 1989 and maintained his presence in the sport long after he retired, coaching a handful of semipro and minor league teams. He also spent time playing the Harlem Globetrotters and was a pioneer of the slam dunk, regularly shattering backboards in the early 1980’s.
Here’s what you need to know about Dawkins and his larger-than-life personality on and off the court:
1. Dawkins Was Living in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
Following his professional playing career, Dawkins made his home in the Lehigh Valley area and he was still living in the area when he passed away earlier this week, according to WFMZ.
Dawkins was a frequent speaker at local fundraisers and even coached the Lehigh Carbon Community College men’s basketball team for two seasons, beginning in 2009. At the time, the former NBA star said that he accepted the under-the-radar coaching job as a bit of a professional stepping stone, telling Philly.com:
Eventually, I want to get to the NBA. I want to be on somebody’s bench. I know I can help the big guys. I have a lot of basketball knowledge. People always remember me as ‘Chocolate Thunder,’ the entertainer No one forced that on me. I brought that on myself. I always understood the value of marketing. I always was me; I didn’t dance to anybody else’s tune.
Dawkins also coached a handful of semipro and minor league teams, including the Newark Express in the ABA; the Winnepeg Cyclone, of the International Basketball League; the Pennsylvania ValleyDawgs, of the USBL, based in Allentown.
2. He Became the First Player Ever Drafted From High School to the NBA in 1975
Dawkins career at Maynard Evans High School in Orlando was nothing short of dominant. His coach, Fred Pennington, told Inside Sports that the big-man was “probably the best high school basketball player ever and one of the best people I ever met.” The team won a state championship in 1975 and Dawkins decided, shortly after, that he was going to play in the NBA.
At just 18 years old Dawkins announced that he would forgo his college eligibility and applied for the 1975 Draft as a hardship candidate. The Philadelphia 76’ers selected him fifth overall and, according to the New York Daily News, when Dawkins made his debut with the team, Walt Frazier took one look at him and said, “I bet his teachers called him ‘Mr. Darryl.'”
Dawkins was expected to dominate from the get-go but it took some time for the teenager to find his NBA footing. He played in just 37 games as a rookie, averaging 2.4 points and 4.5 minutes. The best was yet to come.
3. Dawkins Established a Reputation As a Force in the Post
At 20 years old, two years into his career, Dawkins started to come into his own. He came off the bench in the 1977-78 season and averaged nearly 25 minutes a game with 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds.
But it wasn’t until 1979 that the legend of Dawkins was officially established. In a November 11 game against the Kansas City Kings at Kemper Arena, Dawkins threw down such an incredible dunk that the backboard shattered. Three weeks later – he did it again.
After the second incident, the NBA announced that breaking a backboard was an offense that would result in a fine and a suspension.
Dawkins star only continued to rise after that and he started naming his more flamboyant dunks. The first backboard-breaker was dubbed, “The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam”
4. Stevie Wonder Called Him ‘Chocolate Thunder’
Dawkins was known by many as “Chocolate Thunder” and he embraced the role throughout his career. What many people didn’t know though was the story behind the nickname. Legendary singer Steve Wonder was actually the one to create the moniker.
Stevie Wonder used to come the ball games and they would have a guy sitting with him. And the guy would be holding on to his arm, telling him what’s going on, and he would say, “Hey, the big chocolate guy just put down a thunder dunk. The chocolate guy with another monster dunk.” And Stevie Wonder actually gave me the nickname Chocolate Thunder. So a guy who never saw me can give me that name. I think I can wear that well. I don’t even know if he remembers, it’s been so long, but I’ll keep that.
The nickname lived on with Dawkin’s autobiography, Chocolate Thunder, The Uncensored Life and Times of Darryl Dawkins.
5. His Wife, Kelly Barnes, Committed Suicide in 1987
In September 1986, Dawkins eloped with Trenton, New Jersey native Kelley Barnes. The marriage turned sour quick however, and the following year the two were planning to divorce when Barnes committed suicide at her parents home in New Jersey. Acording to reports Barnes, who was 28 at the time, overdosed on painkillers.
Darryl was in Utah with his team at the time, training with the Jazz in Salt Lake City. Mercer County Prosecutor Paul T. Koenig Jr. said authorities were deeming it a suicide based on the fact that “prescription medication is missing from the vicinity of the body.” A note from Barnes was also reportedly found in the room.
Dawkins later married former Nets cheerleader Robbin Thornton, who he divorced after 10 years, as well as his most recent wife Janice. The two have three children together as well as a daughter from Janice’s previous marriage.