If the NBA gave out an annual award for putting fear into backboards, Darryl Dawkins would be the all-time trophy leader. If he played today, I have no doubt he’d have an intense rivalry with Dwight Howard as they both tried to destroy as many of the new breakaway rims as possible. And Dawkins would win.
While he made his mark with the Philadelphia 76ers, Chocolate Thunder also enjoyed moderate success in New Jersey after joining the franchise by trade in 1982. Dawkins only played two full seasons in New Jersey, and his second was arguably his best – Dawkins averaged a career-high 16.8 points per game, shooting a shade under seven rebounds and 60% from the floor.
Dawkins may have been the world’s greatest backboard shatterer, but he was also notorious for his foul trouble: in his two full seasons with the Nets, Dawkins committed an astonishing 765 fouls – nearly five per game. Dawkins averaged these numbers playing under 30 minutes per game in both seasons – his playing time undoubtedly hampered by his, um, foul trouble. His 1983 and ’84 foul totals rank as the two highest single-season numbers in NBA history, and Dawkins’s 5.8 fouls per 36 minutes rank fifth all-time for players with at least 700 games.
The expectations for Chocolate Thunder outstripped his actual ability, but that doesn’t detract from what he actually was: a reliable 7-footer with a little range, the ability to finish around the rim consistently, and an enormous wingspan. He possessed a good vertical leap before the injuries, but truthfully Dawkins barely had to jump off the ground to reach the rim and throw down one of his trademark powerful jams.
There are a ton of highlights in this below video — one I have to show, as per the “put any player’s highlights to Will Smith’s ‘Summertime’ and I have to promote it” law — but watch carefully at around 3 minutes for #5 highlight: the dunk over Bill Walton (who Dawkins apparently has a little beef with). After receiving an entry pass, Dawkins stands under the hoop for a second, gets his bearings, then rises up and throws down a reverse jam in Walton’s face. Walton was just completely powerless.
That’s what resonates most with me when it comes to Dawkins – he was containable if you kept him outside of that eight-foot space around the basket. But once he’d claimed that area, there’s just nothing you can do.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with big men, Dawkins succumbed to injuries to his massive body, limiting him to just 39 games in 1985 and 51 in 1986. It’s a shame; Dawkins’s production skyrocketed as he worked within a limited role in that 1986 season — shooting .644 from the field, scoring 23.2 points per 36 minutes, and a 19.5 PER, all career highs — before a back injury ended that 1986 season, and essentially his career.