Few things can match the power of a Darryl Dawkins dunk — that is, except for Dawkins’s personality. Known during his playing days for his backboard-shattering slams, Chocolate Thunder could most recently be found charming basketball fans across the country as an ambassador for NBA Nation on its eight-city summer tour which ended in Washington D.C. this June.
In addition to meeting with fans, Dawkins’ responsibilities on the tour included serving as a judge for the 2011 Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown, an amateur dunk contest. Chocolate Thunder’s credentials more than qualify him for the job. Dawkins earned the title of the NBA’s original power dunker during the 1979-80 season when he broke two backboards in less than a month.
Playing alongside Dr. J with the 76ers, Dawkins reached the NBA Finals on three occasions and averaged 12 points per game throughout his 14-year NBA career. We got up with the rim rattler himself to discuss the origin of his nickname, his first dunk, and the NBA lockout.
Dime: How’d you get hooked up with being a judge for the Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown?
Darryl Dawkins: Well, I think I got hooked up because I try to do good things with the NBA, and they always want somebody who’s notable and who’s personable with people. So I got hooked up with the NBA Nation and the next thing I knew I was judging the Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown. They needed somebody who can travel on the weekends and go up to eight different cities. Man, that’s like every weekend. You jumping on planes to go to Cleveland, Sacramento, Dallas, or Miami, and you get to Miami and it’s 102 degrees out, you know. I think I just caught a lucky break because I’m sure there are a lot of guys who would like to do it.
Dime: What were some of the highlights of the tour?
DD: When you go to these different cities. Like in San Antonio we caught a folk festival and had all kind of heritage food around — I like to eat, obviously. Seeing some of the guys get away with some of dunks that, you know, I probably wouldn’t even attempt some of these dunks. I was a power dunker. I want to go straight up, put it down on somebody. I want everybody under there. But these guys will do 720, between the legs, jump over six or seven guys. They’ve got great creativity. These guys got an imagination, which I like.
Dime: What’s the sickest dunk that you’ve seen so far?
DD: I’ve seen some pretty sick stuff, man. Left-handed, 360, the jumping over the guy, putting the ball between the legs and around the waist. It’s been crazy. I’ve enjoyed it.
Dime: Do you think that dunking has gotten more impressive over the years?
DD: For years, people always say, “Ah, what about the dunk. It’s still two points.” But it energizes a team. If you’re down and you get a monster dunk, everybody gets psyched. “Oh yeah, let’s go, let’s go.” So it was dying down a little bit and guys, I think, they took it upon themselves. They got energy on it and started trying different stuff.
Talk about the sickest dunk, we had one guy throw it off the library which was about 60-feet away, back onto the court it bounced, and he timed it, went over there and got it. It was outstanding, man. It was crazy. They got good imagination. They not afraid to try stuff. That’s what keep you from winning, when you don’t wanna try something. You gotta try something people ain’t seen before, and you gotta go to the gym and work on your dunks. In a slam dunk competition, don’t show up with three dunks. You got to have eight or nine dunks because if you get into the finals and two guys may do the same dunk or one guy does the dunk better than the other.
Dime: Out of the 10 finalists, who is your favorite?
DD: I’m not allowed to pick a favorite. Not yet. In my mind, I know what I want, but I’m not allowed to pick a favorite. I think all the guys have worked so hard to get there, and if I was to say one guy, that guy would be feeling like ‘I got this,’ and I want everybody to have a chance.
We’ve seen guys come in and practice and be great and you get a crowd out there and they get a little stage fright and they can’t get one down. So I try to stay away from picking a favorite, but in my heart I have one guy I’m keeping my eye on.
Dime: You said you like to eat. What have been some of the best meals you’ve had touring around these different cities?
DD: I will try just about all the folk food we go to in any place. Lately we had some dynamite ribs in Dallas. Then you go to Miami and you have all the seafood restaurants down there. You can’t mess up, man. You can’t go bad.
Dime: How did the nickname Chocolate Thunder originate?
DD: Stevie Wonder used to come the ball games and they would have a guy sitting with him. And the guy would be holding on to his arm, telling him what’s going on, and he would say, “Hey, the big chocolate guy just put down a thunder dunk. The chocolate guy with another monster dunk.” And Stevie Wonder actually gave me the nickname Chocolate Thunder. So a guy who never saw me can give me that name. I think I can wear that well. I don’t even know if he remembers, it’s been so long, but I’ll keep that.
Dime: Were you a big Stevie Wonder fan?
DD: No doubt about it, man. Music? All kinda music. I don’t just listen to one thing; I listen to everything.