Friday, August 28, 2015

Darryl Dawkins: His Impact & Lasting Legacy on the NBA

Darryl Dawkins passed away Thursday, August 27th from a heart attack.  Darryl, known to many for his prolific and powerful dunks was a unique player on and off the court.  He has a legacy that gets overlooked by history due to him never meeting the expectations of his 5th overall selection in the 1975 NBA Draft.  Darryl Dawkins changed the game of Professional Basketball and a generation of future players had the road paved by him:

1. Dawkins’ Dunks forced the NBA and other leagues to install new backboards
Darryl Dawkins famously (or infamously if you had to be a part of the cleanup crew) broke numerous backboards during his career, shattering glass with the strength of his dunks.  While he was not the first powerful dunker in the NBA, many of the big men of the 1960’s and 1970’s had to hone their skills without dunking.  This was because of Wilt Chamberlain. While at University of Kansas Wilt was so dominant that the NCAA made it illegal to dunk in an effort to neutralize Wilt’s dominance.  But Darryl Dawkins never went to college, so he never learned at a young age how to combine finesse with power like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, and Elvin Hayes did.
Today we have breakaway rims and the backboards are no longer made of pure glass, instead are shatter-resistant.  Both of these changes can be directly traced back to Darryl Dawkins breaking backboards during his playing days.

2. Dawkins was the First Player to be drafted straight out of High School by the NBA
In 1975, Darryl Dawkins forfeited his amateur status and applied to be eligible for the 1975 NBA Draft under the Hardship Clause.  Following in the footsteps of Moses Malone (who did the same and was drafted by the rival Pro Basketball organization, the ABA), the NBA accepted the application.  When the Philadelphia 76ers selected Darryl, he was anointed by many as “The Next Wilt Chamberlain”.  These high expectations led to him having an inflated ego; still a young adult who was not even 20 years old yet playing in a league of men.  Darryl opened the doors for future high school athletes to believe forgoing college was a viable option.  Yet the NBA and its teams would cautious moving forward about selecting high school players due to his immaturity and inconsistent ability to handle life as a professional ball player.

3. Dawkins’ personality paved the way for future NBA Stars
During his playing career, Darryl Dawkins was known to be eccentric and let his personality come through everything he did.  He would have nicknames for his dunks, he would not be reserved during interviews and would have fun with reporters.  In fact, his nickname “Chocolate Thunder” was given to him by Stevie Wonder, a man who never saw him play!  This style of personality expressed on and off the court allowed for future big men to be less reserved and more personality driven.  Without Darryl Dawkins paving the way, it’s hard to know if the NBA as a whole would have been so accepting of talented characters such as Shaquille O’Neal and John Salley.  From now on, because of Darryl, it was acceptable for players to have more than great talent. Having personality became fun and cool.

Darryl Dawkins is not in the Basketball Hall of Fame, but his impact on the game goes far beyond wins and statistics.  He changed how fans and the media view athletes. He changed how NBA team management evaluated players, and how going from high school directly to the pro game could work.  We tend to forget that Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, and LeBron James all never played college basketball; these superstars of the NBA all went straight to the pro game from High School thanks to Darryl Dawkins being a pioneer of what is possible. 

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