Chocolate Thunder Gives Trotters a Try

January 1995

Darryl Dawkins was faced with two options, only one of which could safely take him back to Lovetron -- his imaginary planet of peace, harmony and high jinks.

The flamboyant center, who turns 38 today, could either play in the Continental Basketball Association and hope to catch on again in the NBA, where he spent 14 years shattering backboards and ignoring the cry to fulfill enormous expectations.

Or he could take the job he had prepared for his entire life -- to become a Harlem Globetrotter.

''I used to pretend I was a Globetrotter since I was 9 years old,'' Dawkins said Monday as he worked out with the 'Trotters for today's kickoff of their U.S. tour at Selland Arena. ''They want to make me The Clown, which I've been my whole life anyway.''

Dawkins, who played the previous three years in Italy, was ready to sign with the CBA's Sioux Falls (S.D.) Skyforce this season, then took the Globetrotters' offer.

''It was maybe be a role player in the NBA for two years, or join the 'Trotters and have fun for 10 to 12 more years,'' he said. ''I've always been a showman who liked to entertain.''

Dawkins someday aspires to become the Clown Prince of Basketball, following in the footsteps of the 'Trotters' Goose Tatum and Meadowlark Lemon. That's going to take time.

His ballhandling skills are rudimentary and he's being worked into the act slowly. His role is horsing around and dunking, his best two talents. Still, 'Trotters coach Tex Harrison envisions big things for the man of many nicknames -- notably ''Chocolate Thunder'' and ''Zandokan The Mad Dunker.''

''Darryl adds a new dimension to our team,'' Harrison said. ''He's a great character and personality, and we hope to make a Globetrotter out of him. He still has a lot of basketball left in him.''

Bringing Dawkins and the 'Trotters together is like giving a kid carte blanche in a toy store. He turned the NBA into his personal playground in stints with Philadelphia, New Jersey, Utah and Detroit.

The 6-foot 11-inch, 270-pound giant was known as much for naming his monster dunks as for never living up to his billing as the next Wilt Chamberlain. The first high school player at age 18 to skip college and jump directly to the NBA, Dawkins sometimes played spectacularly if not always consistently.

Still, he played in three NBA championship series and averaged 12 points and 6.1 rebounds for his career. His most productive stretch was with the 76ers in 1980-82, when he split time at center with Caldwell Jones and the club made the NBA Finals twice.

Didn't work hard

''Darryl had the makings of a superstar, but never worked at it that hard. He had his money and fame and glory,'' said Tom Meehan, Dawkins' former agent who lives in Fresno. ''He was like Magic Johnson, with that great smile and charisma that captivated crowds. People say he was out in left field. But he was putting on a show. He was very smart.''

Dawkins admitted: ''I never took the game serious . . . because it was just a game.''

Comparisons to Chamberlain were outlandish and unfair, he still maintains.

''Wilt was one of a kind,'' Dawkins said. ''People say I fell short. But, I never had Wilt's background and coaching. Yet, I played for 14 years, so I must have done something right.''

Dawkins once kiddingly told reporters he came from Lovetron, a planet where kids remained kids and big business never intruded.

He was often seen standing behind teammates during timeouts, gawking at women in the stands. Then he'd go in and slam down another rim-rattling dunk: ''In Your Face Disgrace,'' ''Dunk You Very Much,'' ''Go-Rilla'' and ''Sexophonic Turbo Delight,'' to name a few.

His most famous dunk was a glass-breaker over defender Dave Robinzine he called ''Chocolate Thunder flying, Robinzine crying, Teeth shaking, Glass breaking, Rump roasting, Bun toasting, Wham bam, I am jam.''

''I got fined $5,000 every time I broke a backboard,'' he recalled. ''If someone does that now, they make a commercial out of it and pay him millions.

''I was ahead of my time. I just wanted to be myself, flashy, and the NBA wasn't ready for it. Everything I got criticized for, now they're calling it entertainment.''

So now Dawkins has the chance to be the comedian the pros always frowned upon. With the right training, he could become the main attraction in basketball's three-ring circus.

''I'm on earth right now, just learning the ropes,'' he said. ''But, once I get it down, I'll be back on Lovetron and having the time of my life again.''

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