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Darryl Dawkins, NBA's 'Chocolate Thunder,' Dies At 58

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of pro basketball's most charismatic players has died. Darryl Dawkins became famous in the '70s and '80s for overpowering slam dunks. He was the first player to break a backboard. He named his dunks, like the rim wrecker, the lookout below, and the yo' mama. His dunks gained him a famous nickname, Chocolate Thunder, which he says was given to him after a game by the blind pop star Stevie Wonder.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DARRYL DAWKINS: He met Dr. J., Mo Cheeks, he was shaking their hand. And his brother said, hey, this is the big cat putting down them thunder dunks. He did this - he said, Chocolate Thunder. I said if you can call me that - you've never seen me - I can be Chocolate Thunder, until death do me part.

INSKEEP: We have more now from member station WHYY in Philadelphia and Shai Ben-Yaacov.

SHAI BEN-YAACOV, BYLINE: Outside of Philadelphia, Darryl Dawkins is mostly known for this.

(SOUNDBITE OF BACKBOARD SHATTERING)

BEN-YAACOV: The hulking, 7-foot, 251-pound Dawkins broke two backboard during games and became the first player drafted by the NBA directly out of high school in 1975 by the Philadelphia 76ers. But in the City of Brotherly Love, the man who claimed to be an alien from the planet Lovetron endured his share of criticism. Marcus Hayes, a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Daily News, has known and covered Dawkins for decades.

MARCUS HAYES: He was the guy who coaches would point to when they were recruiting a kid who might go early and say, hey, you don't want to be the next Darryl Dawkins.

BEN-YAACOV: Dawkins was regarded as one of the best raw talents in the league, but critics said he never refined his game. Dawkins left the team in 1982, and the Sixers won the NBA championship the following year. Off the court, Dawkins was a colorful and lively personality, according to Philadelphia Inquirer sports writer Marc Narducci.

MARC NARDUCCI: He was always happy among people, I mean, every time I saw him in these kind of public situations.

BEN-YAACOV: Dawkins kept a presence in the game over the years, most recently coaching at Lehigh Carbon Community College in Schnecksville, Pa., says Hayes.

HAYES: And to see Darryl Dawkins show up with these community college kids - and I watched them play a couple of games. It was really an interesting, sort of, development to see him - Darryl Dawkins, who's always kind of the life of the party - all of a sudden, he's the chaperone at the party.

BEN-YAACOV: Dawkins died yesterday morning at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa. He was 58. An autopsy is scheduled for today. Sixers CEO Scott O'Neil said in a statement, simply put, Darryl Dawkins was beloved by his family, friends, former teammates and his fans all over the globe. For NPR News, I'm Shai Ben-Yaacov in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BASKETBALL")

KURTIS BLOW: And Darryl Dawkin's got a monster dunk, uh, ha, ha. To the hoop y'all, yes, ha, ho... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.