|The big dunk|
From "Chocolate Thunder" by Darryl Dawkins and Charley Rosen
Last week, Page 2 ran an excerpt from "Chocolate Thunder," the recently published autobiography of Darryl Dawkins, written with Page 2 NBA diarist Charley Rosen, on the relationship between Dawkins and his former coach -- and current 76ers coach Larry Brown. Today's excerpt touches on Dawkins' feisty relationship with NBA referees, and on the most dramatic dunk of his -- or anybody's career.
Throughout my NBA career, referees were always looking to nail me. They gave everybody a license to beat on me, but every time I so much as scratched my ass, a foul was called on me. Jim Capers once called a foul on me while I was sitting on the bench. Tweet! "Foul, number fifty-three. Five-three." Everybody was confused and looking around for number fifty-three, so I stood up and said, "I'm over here and the only thing I'm fouling is the water bottle." Then Capers started stuttering and looking around for another number. "I-I mean thirty-one. Yeah, that's it. Three-one."
I saw Sam Lacey, who'd been in the league for ages, get in a referee's face and say, "That's a f---ing shame how you f---ed up that call, you son of a bitch!" And the ref just turned and walked away. I also saw another veteran, Norm Van Lier, say to a ref, "That's bull---- you're calling, man. That's f---ing bull---- and you can s--- my d---!" Again, the ref walked away. Then when I blocked somebody's shot and said to myself, "Get that s--- outta here," I got teed up.
The best thing a referee ever did? We were playing in New Jersey and the game was on the line. Earl Strom and Dick Bavetta were the senior refs, and Strom made a call that went against the Nets and won the game for us. But Bavetta came running and jumping from halfcourt, saying, "No, no, no! I got a push off against McGinnis!" Strom said to Bavetta, "Are you overruling my call?"
"I got pushing off right here," Bavetta insisted, and the Nets wound up winning the game.
We were just walking into our locker room when the door to the referees' locker room came flying open and I saw Bavetta come staggering out. His shirt was torn, he had a big knot over his eye and he was running any way he could find to run. Then Strom stepped out into the runway and shouted after him, "You'll take another one of my f---ing calls again, right, mother------?" I also came to believe that many of the white refs were racists. White guys always got away with more s--- than black guys did. For example, after I was in the league for a couple of years, I was playing in Detroit against Bill Laimbeer, the master of the cheap shot. So I jumped to shoot the ball, and he ran up to me and punched me in the nuts. Almost knocked me out. I'm doubled over in pain and I said to the nearest referee, "Didn't you see that?" The ref said, "No, I didn't see it." Okay. A couple of plays later, I'm under the basket with Laimbeer and I punched him in the kidney. BOOM! He fell down like a little bitch and started screaming, so the referee called a foul. Then the ref came up to me and said, "If you hit a white boy like that, I got to call the foul."
No matter who had position, it seemed that if a black player tried to draw a charging foul against a white player, it was always a blocking foul. Switch them around and the black player was always called for charging into a white player. It also seemed hard for a white guy to foul out because not too many fans were willing to pay to see nothing but blacks out there. The referees must have also realized that the black guys were better athletes than the whites so the white players had to have an edge somewhere.
The refs haunted me my whole career. Stan Albeck, who coached me later with the New Jersey Nets, couldn't believe some of the referees' calls that were going against me. Unlike my previous coaches, he decided to do something. After spending hours at the tape machine, Stan put together the very first Darryl Dawkins video. Eight beautiful minutes of my side of the story. A total of 76 fouls called on me that never warranted a whistle. There were hacks that never happened, invisible bumps, imaginary extra steps, clean blocks that turned into free throws for other teams. Then Stan sent the tape to officials in the NBA league office but nothing changed.
According to the league, even though I may have had perfect position to draw a charge I was inevitably called for a block only because I was so big. Whenever I fell down after drawing what really was a charge, the logic went like this: "If a guy as big as Dawkins falls after being hit by a smaller player, then Dawkins must be faking." And what about all the times I was fouled in the act of shooting? "Dawkins is too strong for anything but a karate chop to interfere with his shot." That's the same reasoning that keeps Shaquille O'Neal from shooting 30 free throws every game.
To make matters worse, the referees never took me seriously. Common referee wisdom held that a player wasn't really playing hard unless he had a hangdog look on his face. The look you get when the finance company repossesses your car, or when the landlord raises your rent, or when your wife tells you she's ten weeks pregnant and you've been on a West Coast trip for three months.
On the court and off, I've always got a smile on my face. And why not? It's great to be alive. Even when I'm mad I don't scowl too long before my grin takes over. Unfortunately for me, the refs decided early in my career that I was only out there to clown around. Yet there were other guys, like Magic Johnson and Dominique Wilkins, whose standard game-face included a s---eating grin, and the refs gave them the benefit of every close call.
I tried everything to establish a rapport with the refs. I even swallowed my pride and tried complimenting them. When I said, "Nice call," they shot right back with, "I know." When the nice-guy approach didn't work, I yelled at them to try and make them think more about the next call. Besides a sore throat, all that got me was more quick fouls and early exits. In all, I played in the league for 14 seasons and I could never completely understand the referees' continuing and personal bias against me. In hindsight, though, I think the answer to the mystery was very simple: Somehow the referees figured out that I really thought they were all d---heads.
So f--- referees and everybody who looks like them.
* * * * *
The single most dramatic event of my career happened on November 13, 1979 at the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium.
I read somewhere that Gus Johnson of the old Baltimore Bullets had dunked hard enough to break a couple of rims during preseason games. It sounded like a fun thing to do and I'd been thinking about the possibility of trying the same stunt myself. But I wanted to do more than just break a rim. I wanted to smash a Plexiglas backboard to smithereens precisely because it was considered to be the ultimate and unattainable proof of strength. I'd seen guys dunk so hard the rim vibrated like a diving board but everybody said that tearing one down was impossible. Fooling around in practice I figured out that the rim was weakest where it was connected to the heel that attached to the backboard.
When I told the media about my plan, everybody laughed at me. The Sixers' trainer, Al Domenico, said, "You're nuts, Darryl. Backboards are unbreakable. You'll just wind up pulling your arm out of its socket."
So we were playing the Kansas City Kings, I was being guarded by Bill Robinzine, and we were only 38 seconds into the third quarter when I caught a pass and made a two-step approach to the basket, and CRASH! I got it just right and the whole backboard just disintegrated. I was the do-er so I just kept moving, but Robinzine was the do-ee so he had to haul ass to get away from the broken glass. Damn! That felt good!
After about ten minutes, the arena staff showed up, swept up the broken glass, and wheeled what was left of the backboard off the court. I sort of wandered by and asked what they were going to do with the broken glass, and one worker said it was headed for the garbage. Somebody else joked about selling the pieces as souvenirs, so I tried to scoop up some of the biggest chunks. Later, I arranged for the pieces I had collected to be sold at a charity auction.
"I didn't mean to destroy it," I told the sportswriters after the game. "It was the power, the Chocolate Thunder. I could feel it surging through my body, fighting to get out. I had no control."
I wound up calling my most famous dunk "If You Ain't Groovin'-Best Get Movin'-Chocolate Thunder Flyin'-Robinzine Cryin'-Teeth Shakin'-Glass Breakin'-Rump Roastin'-Bun Toastin'-Glass Still Flyin'-Wham-Bam-I-Am Jam!"
Naturally, every TV station in the country showed the tape and I became a national celebrity. More importantly, the guys around the league were impressed. Even Doc said to me, "You're the strongest mother------ I ever played with."
Yeah! Let me see if I can do this again!
The general manager of the Kings, Joe Axelson, was furious. The Kings were winning when the game had to be interrupted to find and position a new backboard, and he said I'd deliberately done the deed to break the home team's rhythm. We lost the game anyway, but nobody, not even Axelson, seemed to notice.
Nobody else seemed to be upset. A couple of fans at the game said to me, "I got home an hour late because of you, but it was worth it." Other guys came up to me to say they'd been laying in bed and watching the game on TV, then had to stand up because they thought they'd been dreaming. One guy thought my dunk was an hallucination due to some bad weed he'd been smoking until he saw the replay on TV. Nobody had a discouraging word. Not even the basketball purists complained that I was ruining the game. The beat writers who covered the Sixers made up a pool to pick the exact game I would break another backboard. Las Vegas started setting game-by-game odds. When we got to Detroit, a maintenance man begged me to break the backboard because his crew had been practicing and could replace a broken backboard in under 15 minutes. But I wasn't interested in breaking backboards on request just to get myself some cheap publicity.
Three weeks later we played San Antonio in a nationally televised game in Philadelphia. Once again, I caught it just right and BAM! This time the rim broke right off, leaving a big square hole where the rim used to be connected to the backboard. There was no big explosion or shower of glass, but the effect was the same.
I called this one the "Chocolate Thunder Ain't Playin'-Get Out of The Wayin'-Backboard Swayin'-Game Delayin'-Super Spike!" And I was also inspired to give myself another nickname, "The Master of Disaster."
Excerpted from Chocolate Thunder: The Uncensored Life and Times of the NBA's Original Showman, by Darryl Dawkins and Charley Rosen, © 2003 Darryl Dawkins and Charley Rosen. Reprinted with permission of Sport Media Publishing, Inc.