Darryl Dawkins: Physical specimen. Larger than life. Pretty good basketball player, too. Everybody loved “Chocolate Thunder.”
Sadly, he died of a heart attack yesterday at the age of 58.
Dawkins graduated from Maynard Evans High School in Orlando in 1975, the same year I graduated from Plant High. He led Evans to a state championship that season — routing Tampa’s Robinson High School in the 4A championship — then went directly to the NBA.
During Evans’ Dawkins-led run to the championship, they visited Tampa to play at Hillsborough High. After that game, the Orlando entourage somehow ended up at the McDonald’s on Kennedy Boulevard.
The setting resembled a slice of Americana straight from a Norman Rockwell painting. The “Yellow Dogs” — school buses — were parked at the back of the lot and the Evans cheerleaders, students and basketball team were jammed inside the building.
My friend, Joe Mathis, caught my attention. “Chester, you’ve got to see this.”
He ushered me to an area of the restaurant where we watched as students delivered sacks of food to the table of a smiling giant — a king receiving his riches. That giant turned out to be the one and only Darryl Dawkins, the largest human being I’d ever seen.
Intrigued by Dawkins after that chance encounter, I closely followed his NBA career, enjoying his backboard-breaking antics and humor along the way. I particularly liked the nicknames he acquired — “Sir Slam” and “Dr. Dunkenstein” — and the names he assigned to his assortment of dunks — the “Go-Rilla,” the “Look Out Below,” and, my favorite, the “In Your Face Disgrace.” Least we forget he hailed from the planet “Lovetron.”
Few sports figures have ever been as colorful.
Upon hearing of his death, a teenager sitting inside McDonald’s came to mind. The cheeseburgers resembled breath mints melting on his tongue. A glorious future awaited. Darryl Dawkins was invincible.
R.I.P. Big Guy.