Darryl Dawkins, whose flamboyant personality and backboard-shattering dunks earned him the nickname "Chocolate Thunder" and prompted the NBA to introduce breakaway rims, died Thursday morning at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Pennsylvania. He was 58.
His family released a statement Thursday that said the cause of death was a heart attack. "It is with great sadness that we share the passing of our beloved husband and father, Darryl Dawkins, who succumbed today to a heart attack," his family said in a statement. "Darryl touched the hearts and spirits of so many with his big smile and personality, ferocious dunks, but more than anything, his huge, loving heart."
Dawkins played 14 seasons in the NBA, including seven with the Philadelphia 76ers and five with the New Jersey Nets.
The 6-11 Dawkins became the first player to be drafted directly out of high school in the first round when the 76ers took him with the fifth overall pick in 1975. Dawkins averaged 12.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game for his career, but his statistics were overshadowed by a larger-than-life persona that made him a much-needed fan favorite in an era when the league was struggling with its popularity.
Nicknamed Chocolate Thunder by Stevie Wonder, Dawkins was a showman who named many of his favorite dunks: "Dunk You Very Much," "Yo Mamma" and "Spine Chiller Supreme."
He may be most remembered for shattering two backboards during a three-week span in 1979. The moves led to the NBA passing a rule that made shattering a backboard an offense that could be punishable by fine and suspension. It also led to the league's 1981 adoption of breakaway rims.
"The NBA family is heartbroken by the sudden and tragic passing of Darryl Dawkins," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "We will always remember Darryl for his incredible talent, his infectious enthusiasm and his boundless generosity. He played the game with passion, integrity and joy, never forgetting how great an influence he had on his legions of fans, young and old."
Dawkins went to the NBA Finals three times with the 76ers, losing to the Trail Blazers once and Lakers twice.
"We've lost a dear friend and an iconic figure, both on and off the court," 76ers CEO Scott O'Neil said in a statement. "We remember fondly not only his thunderous dunks, but more important his powerful presence and personality. Simply put, Darryl Dawkins was beloved -- by his family, friends, former teammates and his fans all over the globe. His endearing charm, infectious smile and unparalleled sense of humor will be sorely missed. Chocolate Thunder will always have a special place in our hearts."
Dawkins was from Orlando but famously claimed he came from the planet Lovetron. He also was a fan favorite with the Nets and helped the team go to the playoffs four times in his five seasons.
"The entire Brooklyn Nets organization is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of legendary player Darryl Dawkins," the team said in a statement. "As a member of the Nets in the 1980s, Darryl, known as Chocolate Thunder, entertained fans on the court with his powerful dunks and effervescent personality, and also made an enormous impact in the community."
Dawkins' survivors include his wife, Janice, and four children, Dara, Tabitha, Nicholas and Alexis, according to the family statement.