Montclair State professor remembers his time with Darryl Dawkins
Stevie Wonder dubbed the man “Chocolate Thunder” after hearing about his powerful, monstrous dunks. He’d also go by the self-created nicknames “Sir Slam” and “Dr. Dunkenstein,” but officially he was Darryl Dawkins. Unfortunately, at the age of 58, Dawkins died of a heart attack in Allentown, Pa., according to his family.
Dawkins spent 14 years in the NBA as a center for the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons. Dawkins didn’t post superstar stats – he averaged 12 points and 6.1 rebounds per game over the course of his career – but he became one of the league’s most popular players through his infectious personality and monstrous dunks. The NBA adopted breakaway rims solely because Dawkins shattered two backboards in the span of a month in 1979.
Dawkins’ on-court persona and highlight-reel dunks made him one of the more memorable players in the minds of NBA fans. Although many knew him for what he did on the court, fewer knew him for the man he was off the court. Perry Schwarz, currently a professor at Montclair State, was one of the few who knew Dawkins beyond the dunks and nicknames.
“He was genuine, approachable and down-to-earth,” Schwarz said when remembering Dawkins. Schwarz first met Dawkins at a Nets game on December 5, 1984, which also happened to be NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s last game at the Meadowlands. They discussed Dawkins’ playing career as well as new energy drink, appropriately named “Chocolate Thunder,” that Dawkins had just come out with at the time. There, Schwarz invited Dawkins to appear on the Extra Point – a show that was filmed in the basement of Montclair State’s Student Center. According to Schwarz, that interview, where the two discussed Dawkins’ playing career among other things, was another step in the ongoing friendship Dawkins and Schwarz had formed. Later, Dawkins asked Schwarz to work for his company where he would “construct product displays and organize personal appearances.”
When reflecting on this, Schwarz said, “For a 19-year-old sophomore attending Montclair State, having a cable show and working for an NBA celebrity was an opportunity that was unheard of. During that time, my relationship with Dawkins flourished.”
Schwarz was a school board member when Irvington High School’s basketball team won the state title in 1993 and the school needed a keynote speaker for the ring ceremony. Schwarz penned letters from New Jersey to Dawkins’ apartment in Italy, where he was playing at the time, to ask him about coming.
Dawkins accepted and Schwarz remembered the event. “The man from Lovetron spoke to the athletes and stayed for the entire event. He made youth feel special and treated all those around him with kindness. He was a true ambassador.”
Lovetron was the imaginary planet Dawkins claimed to be from on occasion, where the only currency was love, according to him. Although certainly not real, his personality, love for life and the game makes one wonder if Dawkins once visited the imaginary planet and picked up the characteristics that made him who he was.
The story of Dawkins staying the entire ring ceremony and conversing with high school athletes was not a rarity. Rather, having a big heart and being down-to-earth made him who he was.
“He would bend over backwards to help another person,” World B. Free, a teammate of Dawkins when he played in Philadelphia, said in a video commemorating Dawkins. “He was just one of the greatest guys. I loved him.” In his post-NBA career, Dawkins made visits to children’s basketball camps and volunteered whenever he could with the Special Olympics.
“He was one of the most down-to-earth people I called a friend, not just an acquaintance. He was blessed not only with athletic prowess, but a giving spirit and passion for life,” Schwarz wrote. Indeed, his on-the-court persona combined with his compassionate, spirited personality is the reason why so many adored him and will continue to remember him beyond his passing.