Darryl Dawkins (born January 11, 1957 in Orlando, Florida) is a retired American professional basketball player, most noted for his days with the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets, although he also played briefly for the Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz late in his career.
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. On the flip side, Dawkins set an NBA record for fouls in a season (386 in 1983-84), and he never quite lived up to the expectations that had been heaped upon him when he was drafted out of high school.
“Many of us will judge him solely on what he could have been,” said Dave Wohl, who played against and coached Dawkins, in Sports Illustrated. “Too many will be blinded by the flashes of brilliance that never materialized into consistent greatness. There were times when he teased us with a hint of how he could dominate a game. And we went home in awe and yet sad because we knew of no spell to make it happen more frequently. But few players could make us feel that way even once.”
At Maynard Evans High School in Orlando, Dawkins was “probably the best high school basketball player ever and one of the best people I ever met,” his prep coach, Fred Pennington, told Inside Sports. The team won the state championship in 1975, a year after the ABA’s Utah Stars had plucked Moses Malone right out of Petersburg (Virginia) High School.
Hoping to follow in Malone’s footsteps, the 18-year-old Dawkins renounced his college eligibility and applied for the 1975 NBA Draft as a hardship candidate. The Philadelphia 76ers made him the fifth overall pick, behind David Thompson, Dave Meyers, Marvin Webster, and Alvan Adams. According to the New York Daily News, when Dawkins made his debut with the 76ers, New York Knicks guard Walt Frazier took one look and said, "I bet his teachers called him ‘Mr. Darryl.’"
With his size, speed, and touch, Dawkins was expected to take over the league. But he handled the expectations in typical fashion. "When I walked into the league, they wanted me to be Wilt Chamberlain right away—without one minute of college ball," he told the Daily News. "I can’t be Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt is much taller than me."
A raw talent who needed time to develop, Dawkins languished on the Sixers’ bench for his first two seasons. As a rookie in 1975-76 he played in only 37 games, averaging 2.4 points in 4.5 minutes per game. The next year he played a limited role during the regular season but began to emerge during the playoffs. The Sixers advanced all the way to the NBA Finals that year, and Dawkins was called upon to help battle Portland’s Bill Walton. The Trail Blazers won the series in six games, but Dawkins earned respect among the Philadelphia coaching staff with 7.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest in the postseason.
In the 1977-78 season Dawkins finally found a regular role, coming off the bench for nearly 25 minutes per game. Now a robust 20 years old, he averaged 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds and ranked second in the league in field-goal percentage at .575. With a club that included Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Lloyd Free, and Doug Collins, the Sixers made another solid postseason run, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the Washington Bullets in six games.
Prior to the 1978–79 season Philadelphia traded McGinnis to the Denver Nuggets for Bobby Jones and Ralph Simpson. The move was made in part to clear space for Dawkins on the Sixers’ front line, which also included 6-foot-11 Caldwell Jones. Over the next three seasons Dawkins and Caldwell Jones split time at the center and power forward positions, and Dawkins had the most productive stretch of his career. 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 a game against the Kansas City Kings in November 1979 Dawkins threw down such a massive dunk that the backboard shattered into a thousand tiny shards, sending the Kings’ Bill Robinzine ducking for cover and amazing a nation of fans. Three weeks later he did it again. A few days after that the NBA ruled that breaking a backboard was an offense that would result in a fine and suspension.
Dawkins named the backboard-breaking dunk "Chocolate Thunder Flying, Glass Flying, Robinzine Crying, Babies Crying, Glass Still Flying, Catch Crap, Rump Roasting, Bun Toasting, Thank You, Wham, Bam, I Am Jam."
He named other dunks as well: the Rim Wrecker, the Go-Rilla, the Look Out Below, the In-Your-Face Disgrace, the Cover Your Head, the Yo-Mama, and the Spine-Chiller Supreme. The 76ers also kept a separate column on the stat sheet for Dawkins’s self-created nicknames: "Sir Slam," "Double D," and "Chocolate Thunder."
In 1980-81 season Dawkins’s rim-rocking antics produced a .607 field-goal percentage, second in the NBA to Artis Gilmore’s .670. Dawkins averaged 14.0 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 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sixers management began to shake up the center position. First Philadelphia traded Dawkins, who missed nearly half of the 1981-82 season campaign with injuries, to the New Jersey Nets for a first-round draft pick. Then the Sixers sent Caldwell Jones and a first-round pick to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Moses Malone.
At age 25 Dawkins joined a Nets club that included Albert King, Buck Williams, and Otis Birdsong. He had two productive seasons in a Nets uniform before injuries destroyed the rest of his career. In the 1982-83 season Dawkins averaged 12.0 points and shot .599 from the floor, ranking third in the league in field-goal percentage behind Gilmore and Steve Johnson. The next season he poured in a career-high 16.8 points per game on .593 field-goal shooting and grabbed 6.7 rebounds per contest. Dawkins also set a dubious NBA record that year when he committed 386 personal fouls for the season.
The 1983-84 campaign was Dawkins’s last full season. Injuries limited him to only 39 games in 1984-85, and then a back injury in the 1985-86 campaign all but ended his career. At the time, Dawkins was averaging 15.3 points and shooting .644 from the floor, but the injury sidelined him for 31 of the Nets’ final 32 games and led to abortive playing attempts over the next three seasons. With New Jersey, then the Utah Jazz, then the Detroit Pistons, Dawkins kept trying to come back, but his back wouldn’t let him. He played only 26 games from 1986-87 through 1988-89, finally retiring at the end of the 1988-89 season at age 32. He attempted a comeback in 1994 attending Denver Nuggets training camp and again in 1995 with the Boston Celtics. Darryl also spent several seasons after 1989, playing in the Italian League for Torino, Olimpia Milano and Telemarket Forli.
Upon Dawkins’s retirement, many harkened back to a classic Dawkins saying: "When it’s all been said and done, there’s nothing left to say or do."
Following his NBA career, Dawkins did a brief stint with the Harlem Globetrotters, followed by a season spent with the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the Continental Basketball Association in 1995-1996. During this season, the Skyforce games versus the Florida Beach Dogs were covered by ESPN as Florida featured former NBA center Manute Bol, and ESPN could not resist the novelty of Darryl Dawkins versus Manute Bol. In 2005, along with other former pro basketball players, Dawkins auditioned for an NBA analyst position with ESPN as part of the network's reality series Dream Job.
Darryl Dawkins was briefly married to Kelly Barnes of Trenton, New Jersey. Kelly Barnes Dawkins committed suicide on November 1, 1987 back home in New Jersey. Dawkins was on the road with the team at the time. (The New York Times, November 8, 1987).
Dawkins resides currently in Allentown, Pennsylvania.