Posted Oct 25 2010 2:05PM
Nobody had circled the date on the calendar. Nobody figured that it was anything more than another early season game on the long road of the regular season.
Until 38 seconds into the second half when Maurice Cheeks' pass found a wide open Darryl Dawkins on the right side of the basket.
If the Black Eyed Peas were around in those days, they'd surely have immortalized it in song.
Boom Boom Pow!
On the scale of great explosions, Dawkins' slam dunk that shattered a backboard and rained twinkling shards of glass onto the court in Kansas City on Nov. 13, 1979 ranked somewhere between the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and the Big Bang that created the universe.
"Chocolate Thunder Flyin', Robinzine Cryin', Teeth Shakin', Glass-Breakin', Rump Roastin', Bun Toastin', Wham, Bam, Glass Breaker I Am Jam."
Though it wasn't the first time that anyone ever broke a backboard in a professional basketball game, it was the glass-smashing, mind-blowing event that carried the slam dunk across the threshold into a new brand era. It was like art leaping from crude stick figures on a cave wall straight to the Mona Lisa.
If you hang around the NBA as I have for more than three decades you'll see a lot of unforgettable things -- from Larry Legend stealing Isiah Thomas' pass and feeding Dennis Johnson to Magic's Baby Skyhook to Michael Jordan's farewell jumper over Bryon Russell to Derek Fisher's heave at :00.4 to virtually any night of the week that the incomparable Dr. J laced up his sneakers and unleashed his imagination. Yet Dawkins' feat is my favorite moment.
It was the unbridled power, the majestic glory, the sheer audaciousness of the act and, of course, the utter surprise that made it so freeze-frame-in-the-frontal-lobe memorable. Those events that we never see coming hit us with the most force.
The game shouldn't even have been played that night inside historic and rickety Municipal Auditorium -- which had played host to nine NCAA championship games between 1940 and 1964 -- except that a vicious windstorm four months earlier had caused the roof to collapse at the Kings' home of Kemper Arena. Was it an omen? The old barn in downtown K.C. had seen the likes of Bill Russell, Tom Gola, Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas and John Wooden, but never anything like this.
When Dawkins first slammed the ball through the rim, there was a split second of almost total silence and then a whooshing sound like the air being sucked right out of the building followed by a roar of applause that mixed appreciation and amazement with utter disbelief.
"When I hit it, I felt it give and said to myself, 'It's time to get the (expletive) out of Dodge!' " said Dawkins.
Though he'd turned and rose above the King's Otis Birdsong to throw down the shot, it was the late Bill Robinzine who stood in the lane amid the shower of glass fragments and wound up immortalized in Dawkins' 20 words of slam dunking poetry.
To that point, it had been a desultory evening for the powerful Philadelphia 76ers. Though they would eventually win the East and play the Lakers in the Finals that season, this was a 110-103 loss to the lowly Kings on which everyone would have quickly turned the page if it had not been for Dawkins.
In those smashing seconds it became one of the most memorable nights in league history, one that has been replayed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube.
All-Star guard and now Sixers coach Doug Collins took off in a full-out sprint to the other end of the court when the backboard first exploded and started coming down and then Dawkins' teammates slowly began to walk back out onto the court, examining the wreckage like survivors following a bomb blast.
No less a high-flying, slam dunking authority than Julius Erving stood at midcourt, shook his head and grinned from ear-to-ear.
"Glass was everywhere," Erving said that night. "There was such excitement that filled the arena. It was one of those times when you could actually feel something that was like electricity in the air. I've seen a lot of things happen on a basketball court, but that's one that will stay with me forever. I think, maybe, Darryl is just too strong for this game."
Sixers guard Henry Bibby sat on the courtside press table, picked up a telephone and dialed a friend in some other corner of the country to describe what he'd just seen.
Forward Steve Mix raced into the Sixers' locker room and quickly returned with his 35 mm camera and began clicking off shots of the damage from every conceivable angle.
The game was delayed 62 minutes as a replacement backboard was set up and while Dawkins and Robinzine used the time to take showers to rinse the glass particles off their bodies. Everyone else inside the building kept humming like tuning forks.
Nobody appeared happier than the late Jack McMahon, who was then a Sixers' assistant coach.
"The last one of those I saw was by Charlie 'Helicopter' Hentz in 1971 when I was coaching in the ABA," McMahon said gleefully. "Charlie broke two backboards in that game. The first one came in the first half and the second late in the game when we were trailing Carolina by 19 points.
"When Charlie was going in for the second one, all I could think was that we were getting our butts whipped and we'd have to wait through another long delay. I was up out of my seat yelling, 'No, Charlie! Don't dunk it!' But he did and we just forfeited and left."
McMahon had spent a lifetime in the game, won a championship as a starting guard with the St. Louis Hawks (1958), coached and scouted in practically every corner of the map and had a sense of history that was as sharp and alive as his Irish sense of humor. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of broken glass that he held up to the light like a diamond.
"Maybe I'll have a ring made," McMahon said, giggling like a high school freshman.
"A lot of people can make a jump shot to beat the clock and win a game and plenty of people through the years have seen that happen," he said. "What Darryl did here tonight was special. I'm telling you, for as long as you watch basketball, you'll never forget this game."
That's a fact, Jack.
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