Exclusive interview with Darryl Dawkins - 7/22/2011

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Darryl Dawkins is celebrated as one of basketball's most flamboyant and colorful characters, known for his eccentric personality and powerful-yet-whimsically-named dunks. He's perhaps most remembered for being the second player ever to shatter a backboard during play, a feat he performed twice during the winter of 1979. He also holds the two highest totals for personal fouls in a single season. A member of the Sixers from 1975 until 1982, he played in three NBA Finals before being traded prior to Philadelphia's 1982-83 championship run. We caught up with Chocolate Thunder to see how things are going today on planet Lovetron and chat about turning pro straight out of high school, playing overseas, and more.

Sixers.com: You’ve been coaching at Lehigh Carbon Community College since 2009. How has that been going?

Darryl Dawkins: It’s a different kind of experience because they’re community college kids and they’re trying to work, trying to get their grades and if they don’t make good grades, they can’t stay on the team. We don’t get the kind of turnout a Philadelphia college does to try and build a team so we have to work with what we have. I like coaching, so it’s not a problem.

S.C: Do you have aspirations of coaching at a bigger school down the road?

DD: Why stop with a bigger school? Why not go to the pros one day? [laughs]. I like to think I could end up on somebody’s NBA bench. I do a lot of stuff with the Nets and the Sixers when they call. A lot of it is for charity. You don’t do a lot of stuff to get paid and when you coach at the community college level, you certainly don’t do it to get paid; you do it for experience. I enjoy giving back, so that’s been the fun part of my life.

S.C: You also work as an ambassador for the NBA and its NBA Nation tour. What does that involve?

DD: NBA Nation is great because we go to cities where kids may never get to see a game. We have the Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown, hot dogs, 3-point shooting contests and skills contests. I’ve taken more pictures with kids than I’ve ever have with adults. I thought basketball was my gift but I think it’s working with kids.

S.C: You made the leap straight from high school to the pros back when not many guys did that. Did seeing the success Moses Malone had doing that impact your decision?

DD: Moses Malone did help me make up my mind, because I felt that if he could do it, I could do it. When I got there, World B. Free and I became buddies. World taught me how to drive in the city and how drive in the snow. World was my brother. We had Harvey Catchings, Doug Collins, Freddie Carter, Clyde Lee… all these guys helped me along the way. Jack McMahon used to keep me after practice to work alongside him and others. Even though I came from high school, I was with guys who were maybe one or two years older than me; so we had our own little bunch of rebels.

S.C: What was it like being a rookie on a team with Dr. J?

DD: Doc was a great leader and always led by example. He had a lot of help from guys who would talk to you and tell you, ‘don’t go over there’ and ‘don’t do this, don’t do that.’ That kind of helped. It made the transition that much easier. I think the thing I missed most was not being home for holidays when I called back to Florida and they would tell me my Aunt was cooking her sweet potato salad. I would say ‘don’t tell me that!’ That was the hardest part.

S.C: What are your thoughts on current rules which don’t allow high school players to go directly to the pros?

DD: I think it’s your right to feel like ‘hey, I want to go and I’m not giving up on my dream,’ but I think the one year is great because you learn how to handle money, you learn how to handle people and how to live alone. When I was going through it, everybody had ‘get rich quick’ schemes. If you could get rich that quick, you didn’t need me!

S.C: Since you didn’t get to play much at the beginning of your NBA career, did you have second thoughts about your decision to turn pro?

DD: Gene Shue told me that ‘you gotta play hard and you will get a chance to play.’ Al Domenico, our trainer, said ‘don’t worry about playing now because next year, you’re going to play so much that you’ll be begging to come out of the game.’ Well, he was right! My mother would not allow me to have second thoughts. She said ‘you wanted to do it, so get out there and do it.’ The good thing about it, was coming in as a center, you had to go up and down the floor, close up the middle and beat on each other and I had good size. If I was a guard, I don’t think I would have tried [going from high school to pro] because guards have more tricks.

S.C: What was Doug Collins like as a teammate?

DD: Doug is a good man. A lot of people look at me kinda crazy when I say this, but if Doug didn’t hurt his foot several times in a row, he would have been as good as Larry Bird. Doug could shoot, play defense, take charges, strip guys and could flat out run. We called him Sticks. Doug could flat out play. To see him become a coach doesn’t surprise me. He has a great knowledge of the game and knows how to talk to people and work with people.

S.C: Was there a specific moment in your career when things clicked for you and you knew you belonged?

DD: I got into a game against New York and blocked Clyde Frazier’s and Earl Monroe’s shots. They were a little older at that time, so it may not have even been fair. Then I blocked Spencer Haywood’s shot and Freddie Carter said ‘hey big fella, your stock just went up!’

S.C: Was it tough to lose your third NBA Finals with the Sixers in 1982, be traded away, and then see the team win the championship?

DD: I know guys who were greater players than I was who never had the chance to play in the Finals. I really wasn’t despondent when I got traded because I was going a place where they wanted me and they were going to pay me a little more money. I still had friends on the Sixers and didn’t mind coming back to help them drink the champagne. I still had a lot of love for the guys on that team. Even though I wasn’t part of winning the championship, I was glad they finally won one and was happier the next year when I was playing with the Nets and we came back and knocked them out of the playoffs!

S.C: You hold the two highest single-season foul totals in NBA history. Did you feel like you were picked on by the referees because of your size?

DD: I have to go back to my mother who told me, ‘If anyone comes through, you hit them and you hit them hard so they don’t come back.’ The referees had never seen a football player come in and play basketball. I was the size of a football player. I had a nice, soft jumpshot and could handle the ball a little bit thanks to World B. Free. I think maybe at that point, they had just never seen a guy my size doing the things I was doing and at times didn’t know which way to call it, so it just went against me.

S.C: You played overseas for a few years. How was that experience?

DD: I enjoyed playing in Italy, learning to speak Italian, cook Italian and live like an Italian. I learned how to speak Italian without taking one lesson by just hanging around the guys… naturally, we learned the bad words first. The reason I liked it was because I was in another country doing something that not a whole lot of other guys were doing. If you’re not ready to go over there and live the way they do and miss you family, then don’t do it. But Chocolate Thunder is always ready for an adventure.

S.C: Do you ever feel like you were ahead of your time and how popular you would be playing today with 24-hour sports coverage and the internet?

DD: My parent’s had me about 20 years too soon! I always feel like I was ahead of my time because I knew how to market myself. When you hear an NBA guy answer why they lost a game and they’re like ‘well they made their jumpshots and they’re a very good team’. No. No. No. I want to hear a guy talk trash sometimes! I want to hear them say ‘yeah we busted them up… I had 38 on him and next week, I’m getting 40… they couldn’t guard me if I was glued to the floor.’ Yeah, we’re supposed to be role models but we are human too and the human side makes you competitive.

S.C: What was more impressive: you shattering backboards or Shaq bringing down a whole basket?

DD: I was the Master of Disaster. Shaq was the Duke. Shaq pulling the whole thing down? Yeah, that was awesome… but I was doing it when he was in diapers!

S.C: What would 54-year-old Darryl Dawkins say to 19-year-old Darryl Dawkins if he had the chance?

DD: Do as I say, not like I did and have fun doing what you’re doing because there’s a million people who go to work and don’t enjoy it, but it pays the bills; we did something we enjoyed doing and got paid.