Backboard-Shattering NBA Legend Darryl Dawkins Dies at 58

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Former Philadelphia's 76ers' Darryl Dawkins, seen here in his team photo in 1980, died August 27. He was 58. Dawkins backboard-shattering dunks earned him the moniker "Chocolate Thunder" and helped pave the way for breakaway rims in the NBA. AP

Lovetron's favorite son has passed away.

Darryl Dawkins, who in 1975 became the second man, after Moses Malone, to jump directly from high school to the pro basketball, has died. The 6-foot 11 inch, 255-pound, backboard-shattering behemoth, who was dubbed Chocolate Thunder by Stevie Wonder, was 58 years old.

The center from Orlando, Florida, played 14 seasons in the NBA but is best remembered for his early years with the Philadelphia 76ers. Cartoonishly musclebound, Dawkins was a nightmare to backboards—he shattered two in 1979, compelling the league to adopt breakaway rims. The herculean strength belied a playful, even childish, nature. When Dawkins signed his first NBA contract, he wore a cream suit with a bow tie and top hat.

In the mid- to late-'70s, the Sixers were arguably the league's most talented team and inarguably its most colorful. Philly boasted the league's precursor to Michael Jordan in Julius Erving, aka Dr. J, as well as a guard who legally changed his name from Lloyd Free to World B. Free. None of the Sixers, though, enchanted media types quite like the playful and imaginative Dawkins, who entered the league tabbed to become its next colossus in the paint.

"When I walked into the league, they wanted me to be Wilt Chamberlain right away—without one minute of college ball," Dawkins told the Daily News. "I can't be Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt is much taller than me."

At just 18, Dawkins entered the league with the physical maturity of a man 7 years older than he and the emotional maturity of a boy 7 years younger. He told people that he hailed from the planet Lovetron, where "love is the only currency," and where he would practice "interplanetary funkmanship." Dawkins nicknamed his favorite dunks (while Erving, the most exquisite dunker the league would see until MJ's arrival, would not), such as the "In Your Face Disgrace" and the "Go-Rilla."

Despite his preternatural talent, Dawkins was never more than a sideshow, albeit an enjoyable one. He never made an all-star team, and the only category in which he ever led the league—beyond shattered glass—was in personal fouls, which he did in three separate seasons. In 1983-1984 as a member of the New Jersey Nets Dawkins committed 384 fouls, still an NBA record, which is the equivalent of fouling out of 64 of the team's 82 games. He retired after the 1989 season.

Thrice married, Dawkins had been living in the Lehigh Valley. No immediate cause of death has yet been announced.