Darryl Dawkins was once summoned in the Philadelphia 76ers’ locker room to come meet a celebrity who wanted to meet the man known for dunking with backboard-breaking force.
The guest was Grammy Award winner Stevie Wonder. The entertainer is blind, yet even he could tell there was something very unique about Dawkins’ game.
“A guy who never saw me,” a beaming Dawkins said in a 2011 televised interview, “gave me the name ‘Chocolate Thunder.'”
The name stuck, and the rim-wrecking, glass-shattering dunks remain unforgettable — as will the giant of a man who changed the game with them. Dawkins died Thursday at a hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, according to the Lehigh County coroner’s office. He was 58, and even though officials said an autopsy would be performed on Friday his family released a statement saying the cause of death was a heart attack.
“Darryl touched the hearts and spirits of so many with his big smile and personality, ferocious dunks, but more than anything, his huge, loving heart,” his family said. “His family, wife Janice, children Dara, Tabitha, Nicholas and Alexis, along with countless family, friends, and fans, all mourn his loss.
“More than anything Darryl accomplished in his basketball career as the inimitable ‘Chocolate Thunder,’ he was most proud of his role and responsibility as a husband and father,” his family added.
Dawkins, the first player to go from high school into the first round of the NBA draft, spent parts of 14 seasons in the NBA with Philadelphia, New Jersey, Utah and Detroit. He averaged 12 points and 6.1 rebounds in 726 career regular-season games.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Dawkins was “beloved around the league.”
“The NBA family is heartbroken by the sudden and tragic passing of Darryl Dawkins,” Silver said. “We will always remember Darryl for his incredible talent, his infectious enthusiasm and his boundless generosity. He played the game with passion, integrity and joy, never forgetting how great an influence he had on his legions of fans, young and old.”
Dawkins was selected No. 5 in the 1975 draft by the 76ers. His two backboard-shattering dunks came about a month apart early in the 1979-80 season, one against Kansas City, the other against San Antonio.