The Weekside: Missing Darryl Dawkins

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Darryl Dawkins passed away this week, far too young and far too soon. The NBA — and his adopted planet Earth — lost one of its great ones.

Growing up in the 1980s, we didn’t have a lot to watch. There weren’t even that many televised games compared to the national showcases and League Pass completeness nowadays, but the landscape was especially barren when it came to the extra stuff. Those short video interviews that you don’t even bother to watch on autoplay videos? We would have killed for those in 1989.

There were some things. NBA entertainment pumped out great player-specific content: Larry Bird had a phenomenal video, and Magic of course did, too. Michael Jordan had a trilogy of tapes to watch: Come Fly With Me, Air Time, and Above & Beyond. None of these were documentaries so much as promotional content designed to tell the player’s rise and highlight their exquisite ability to play the game of basketball. But they were so well made that, when it comes to MJ, I’m certain they left such lasting impressions that these videos are a key reason why all of my non-diehard NBA fans will never consider anyone but Jordan to be the best ever.

There were a lot of videos designed for fun as well. Bloopers were a thing back then — think half-hour-long Shaqtin’ A Fool videos — and the NBA cranked out a lot of those tapes. There were also hour-long segments dedicated to dunkers, passers, shot blockers, deadly shooters. I’m not even sure where they aired to be honest, but I saw them all the time, both on televised re-runs and on the VHS tapes that I forced my parents to buy.

Daryl Dawkins seemed to be featured in every one.

He was certainly an early adopter of the “personal brand” concept — decades before anyone would coin the term — but more than chasing the limelight, he just looked like a guy who loved showing up to video shoots to talk hoops. If someone called, he seemed to be the happy, smiley guy who would just ask “where and when?” then arrive in some fresh threads and take over a conversation like only he could.

He didn’t just talk about his dunks, he painted verbal artwork. Darryl Dawkins is now best known for two things: tearing down rims and naming his dunks. Fran Blinebury, who covered and developed a relationship with a young Dawkins as a beat reporter, captured both in a must-read column on Dawkins.

"Maurice Cheeks’ pass found a wide open Darryl Dawkins on the right side of the basket … On the scale of great explosions, Dawkins’ slam dunk that shattered a backboard and rained twinkling shards of glass onto the court in Kansas City on Nov. 13, 1979, ranked somewhere between the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and the Big Bang that created the universe. “Chocolate Thunder Flyin’, Robinzine Cryin’, Teeth-Shakin’, Glass-Breakin’, Rump-Roastin’, Bun-Toastin’, Wham, Bam, Glass Breaker I Am Jam.”"

There isn’t a more Chocolate Thunder anecdote than that. When it came to basketball, there was nothing the man loved more than shattered glass and rhyme-based dunk nicknames.

And now he is dead, passing way too young at 58 and making the world a worse place for it.

What can you say other than it sucks? Hearing the news gave me the exact same feeling I had a few weeks ago when I learned that Brooklyn rapper Sean Price died.

No way. How? He’s too young. Man … f*** everything.

The two men have much in common: dexterity with words, a beloved cult following, true wit, and a legitimately unique perspective and persona in a cookie-cutter world full of people trying to fake both. Each man became ingrained deeply of their respective worlds and gained the utmost respect of his peers. Dawkins entered the league larger than life then remained a presence in nearly every All-Star weekend since his retirement. Sean P took the New York rap world by storm as part of the Boot Camp Clik collective in the mid-1990s then went solo and re-emerged one of the rare ol’ heads who was still making dope music up until the day he died.

They both had an air of superiority to them as well, honing this presence without coming off as delusional, disrespectful, or anything more than playfully self-centered. Dawkins played with Dr. J and against Dominique Wilkins. But he preferred his own dunks. Sean P boasted that he, not his near-billionaire borough-mate Jay-Z, was Brooklyn’s greatest rapper when he rhymed, “Where was I? Ahhh, yes — Shawn Carter is nice, but Sean Price is the best.”

Even their nicknames are ridiculously phenomenal. For various reasons, it seems preposterous to call a grown man “Chocolate Thunder.” Or go along with their claim to be an alien sent to Earth from Planet Lovetron, which was Darryl’s other favorite persona. Sean P adopted monikers including “Jesus Price,” “Kimbo Price” and “Mic Tyson” and bragged about being The Brokest Rapper You Know.

The, of course there was this line from Sean P in the track “P. Body” from his Jesus Price Supastar album: “Yo, the left hook’ll shatter ya’ chin / similar to Daryl Dawkins when he shattered the rim.”

We need men like this in our entertainment, and now we have lost two of the greats.

Although its impetus is tragic and awful, there is something satisfying about reading Blinebury’s ode to Dawkins. It was a fitting eulogy for a man who too few young fans know. It shows my age that I have reverence for Dawkins and shows our age that icons of the (relatively recent) past are fading from our collective conscious.

So as sad as it makes you, it makes you happy in a way, too. I wasn’t there there. But I’m glad I got to watch all those old NBA Entertainment shows — over and over and over again, because there weren’t that many, really. I’m glad I got to know Dawkins, at least a little bit. Every time he appeared on camera, he brought the fun, that outsized personality, and an energy that was contagious even through a television screen.

He changed the game by shattering backboards and forcing the league to institute breakaway rims, and he changed the lives — for the better, if only through a few laughs — of everyone who met him.

We’ll miss you, Chocolate Thunder.

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