“You were one of my favorite players of all time,” Houston center Dwight Howard posted Thursday on Instagram under a photo of Dawkins dunking in a game. “You were very inspirational to a lot of young players. Thank u for the long talks and great memories. I can’t believe that you’re gone. But you are in a better place. You were the originator of the dunk.”

Dawkins’ shows of force unquestionably changed the game. The NBA soon went to breakaway rims and mandated that backboards be shatter-resistant.

“Simply put, Darryl Dawkins was beloved-by his family, friends, former teammates and his fans all over the globe,” 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil said. “His endearing charm, infectious smile and unparalleled sense of humor will be sorely missed. ‘Chocolate Thunder’ will always have a special place in our hearts. His family is in our thoughts and prayers.”

Dawkins was, by any measure, a character. His love for the game was unquestioned and unwavering — he appeared at an 76ers alumni event earlier this month and recently posted a photo to his Twitter account of him coaching a summer-league girls team.

Dawkins was as revered off the court as he was on it. He remained enormously popular after his playing days were done, even during his stint as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters. He would name his dunks — the “look out below,” the “yo-mama” and the “rim wrecker” among them — and often boasted that he hailed from the “Planet Lovetron.”

In actuality, he was born and raised in Orlando, Florida, growing up impoverished with dreams of giving his mother and grandmother better lives.

“A great man, entertainer, athlete and ferocious dunker,” former NBA guard Kevin Johnson wrote on Twitter. “He will be missed but not forgotten.”

Injuries plagued Dawkins late in his NBA career, and he went overseas for several more years to play in the Italian league. He also briefly had stints in the Continental Basketball Association and the International Basketball Association. He also coached at times, at both the minor-league and junior-college levels.

He averaged double digits in nine consecutive NBA seasons, with his best year likely being the 1983-84 campaign for New Jersey. He averaged a career-best 16.8 points that year, with only foul trouble — 386 that season, still a league record — holding him back.

“Darryl Dawkins is the father of power dunking,” Shaquille O’Neal once said. “I’m just one of his sons.”

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