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Q & A: Darryl "Chocolate Thunder" Dawkins
Posted: June 6, 2003
KS: There were a couple of years that they attempted more shots than Erving did!
DD: World Free was explosive. He's still like my brother. We lived together three years in Philadelphia. One-on-one, I've never seen anybody stop him. He helped me with my game. Every day after practice, World Free and I played one-on-one. I had to shoot outside the paint, and World had to shoot inside the paint.
KS: Were you around when he said he wasn't "All-NBA" he was "All-World" and so changed his name from Lloyd to World B. Free?
DD: I felt like, it's your right to change your name if you want. Besides being a great player, it made him more interesting. People wanted to know why he changed his name. And anybody who can change their name to World, means they been all around the world.
KS: What happened in Game 6 in the 1980 Finals? You guys were playing at home, and were favored to win the game because the Lakers were playing without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had that bad ankle sprain.
DD: We were definitely favored in the game. We weren't favored in the playoffs at all, if you go back and look. Jabbar didn't play and Magic Johnson jumped center -- he did not play center -- and he just had younger legs than a lot of our guys. He was a younger guy, we had gone six games. When you have guys who are 33 and 34 and they're chasing a guy who is 21, that's a little tough on your legs. He did have a tremendous game and proved that he was a great player, because he didn't just do it that day, he did it every day.
KS: There was an expression about the Sixers -- 12 players, 12 taxies. But you're saying you were close?
DD: A lot of us were close. Not every guy was in love with the other guy, but a lot of us were very close. Like I said, we needed another ball at times. The coach had to control everything. Gene Shue didn't want anyone mad at him, so he tried to spread the ball around, which is what a coach is supposed to do.
KS: After the Portland Trail Blazers won the 1977 Finals, Bill Walton said, "We passed the ball more; they dribbled more." That seems to agree with what you're saying.
DD: Portland had a team that only had one star -- Bill Walton. They had Lionel Hollins, Larry Steele, Maurice Lucas, Johnny Davis -- all of these guys you would consider working-class dogs. Bobby Gross -- they just came in and ran plays. Dave Twardzik, Walton could dish it out real good and he was a tremendous player himself. I talk about him in the book a little bit, about how he was a mountain man, and deciding not to take a shower that year. He said he would put on a red bandana and live in the mountains. Now, you gotta be smoking something if you don't take a shower the whole year. It was no big deal -- everybody was smoking it anyhow. It was an era in basketball where everyone smoked weed, did a little dope. It was just their thing.
KS: How was drug use then compared to now?
DD: It was different then. [Commissioner] David Stern has done a better job of cleaning all that up. At that time, we were more concerned with getting fans inside the arenas. David Stern has done a better job of putting the NBA on the map than Lawrence O'Brien. But for our era Lawrence O'Brien did a good job.
KS: After Philadelphia, you played five years with the Nets. How was that different?
DD: The difference between the Nets and the Sixers was this. I get to New Jersey and I'm playing against Patrick Ewing and Bill Cartwright under the basket. I drove in, both were waiting under the goal, they jumped, and I dunked on both of them. I turned around and pushed off of the rim and ran down the floor and I think I heard 10 people said, "Way to go Dawkins, good shot." If that had been in Philadelphia you would have heard, "Oh you busted ass, yeah!" The crowd would go crazy. I think New Jersey fans sat on their hands.
KS: In empty arenas.
DD: It was empty. During my years there we built up a bigger fan base than they had ever had. We had Michael Ray Richardson, who was an attraction and could definitely play. We had Otis Birdsong, Darwin Cook, Albert King and Buck Williams.
KS: It must have been very sweet in 1984 for you guys to knock the world champion Sixers out of the first round of playoffs, since they had traded you to the Nets before the 1983 season.
DD: People ask me if I was upset that the Sixers traded me to the Nets. I said, "No, I wasn't upset, because the Sixers had offered me $500,000 and the Nets offered me $1 million." So I wasn't upset. We came back and they were the world champs, and to knock them out, in their arena, three straight, really was a great feeling. People started to take notice and said, "Hey, Dawkins is a pretty good player" because I had done such a good job on Moses Malone.
KS: Malone was the MVP the year before. How did you do it?
DD: I believe in banging a guy before he banged you. Because if he banged you, that means he's comfortable. If you bang him first and knock him off balance and he says, "Hey man, what you doin'? This ain't ball," I say, "Man, just shut up and play."
KS: He was a big guy, but you were a little bigger.
DD: Yeah, I had more beef.
KS: Nobody talks about that series, but it was one of the great upsets.
DD: I think a lot of people are viewing the NBA differently now. During that time there were teams. I was coached by Larry Brown and he was a real drill sergeant. Larry made us do things that we wouldn't do in the game, then finally we began to do them in games. In practice everybody would go left one day, then go right the next day. It was a real teaching point and made everybody better. He was a tremendous motivator.
KS: You seemed to have your way with certain big centers, like Bill Cartwright in New York.
DD: He didn't like contact and that's what made me go at him. Hit him at four feet, he goes out to six, hit him at six, he goes out to eight, and he just keeps going out. Anytime we had a rough week, I would look at the schedule and say, "When do we play Cleveland?" They had Melvin Turpin. He wanted no part of contact. So I would see him and before I might have two games of 11 points and play him and go for 26. If you didn't like contact, you would get it all night long.
KS: Guys like Jeff Ruland loved the contact.
DD: I loved to play down in Washington against Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn, the "Bruise Brothers," or the beef brothers. I loved them! You know, because guys like that banged. And the next night you play against a little skinny center and the referee would have you on the bench.
KS: Who was your toughest opponent?
DD: Bob Lanier, because he was left-handed. He was seven feet, about 300 pounds, and had a size 22 shoe.
KS: And a good outside touch.
DD: Yeah, and he had a lazy eye, so he looked cross-eyed. You would get in front of him and with that eye you wouldn't know which way he was going. Then he had a button, so that when you got behind him, he would push that button and his rear end got bigger. You couldn't get around him with a moped. Remember years ago when they had the first one-on-one tournaments (between halves of NBA games)? Well, Bob Lanier won the one-on-one tournament.
KS: I pulled for Lanier since he went to my school, St. Bonaventure.
DD: Well, I have a point 5-foot-10 starting point guard from St. Bonaventure named Tim Winn. He's playing for me now. Kareem Reid is also about 5-foot-10. With these two guards out front, we have guys scared to put the ball down on the floor right now.
KS: You must have been pleased to have a 14-year NBA career?
DD: People always ask me, "Do you think you lived up to your potential?" Maybe I could have been better. But I stayed there 14 years, I gave it the best I had, I entertained the crowd, as well as loved playing the game. And I'm still remembered in Philadelphia. If I go to Philadelphia to a game, I get pinned against the wall signing autographs. World does, too. And I say to World, "Man, we didn't even win a championship and they still love us down here."
KS: You had quite a field goal percentage -- .572. That's still fifth best of all time. How many people remark about that?
DD: First they say, all he did was dunk the ball. Then they go back and look and they say, "He had a pretty good jump shot, man. He had some good post moves." And I say, "You guys remember me for breaking the backboard and my dunks. I certainly talked trash every time they dunked -- that's what they remember.
KS: You were just 32 when you quit. How did you know it was over?
DD: I had hurt my back and I was talking to NBA teams and everyone was offering $200-, $300-, $400,000, saying they would give you more when you proved you could play. Overseas they were offering $700,000 cash, they pay the taxes on it, they give you a house. So I went over there and stayed in Italy for five years, from 1990 through 1994, until I was 37. I played in Torino for two years, Milano for a year, and Forli, right outside of Bologna, for two years.
KS: How did you like the whole experience?
DD: I loved it. I found out what real Italian food was, learned how to cook Italian, learned how to speak Italian fluently. Even now, if I go to an Italian restaurant, I always speak Italian to practice Italian.
KS: Did the good times you had off the court interfere with your game?
DD: Guys then who did drugs didn't do them before the game, they did 'em after the game. And if you went down to the clubs dancing, there were a lot of girls around; there are still a lot of girls around now. I don't feel it interfered with the game. It interfered with the game when you did dope and then went out and played basketball. Because you couldn't even afford it if you weren't working. There were a lot of girls around and we had a good time with the girls. But anything you would catch then, you could get a shot for. But now we have this big disease with the little name.
KS: You claimed to have been with 1,000 women?
DD: I said if Wilt [Chamberlain] had 20,000, then I had 1,000, so I couldn't touch him. I couldn't be a button on his shirt. My book is my testimony -- from where I came from to where I am. Obviously, I'm not that same person. I love life. I got remarried -- my wife's name is Janice -- and we had a son last year. I have another daughter at Temple University, who is 23, named Dara. I got a daughter due soon.
KS: You played with the Globetrotters after you played in Italy. What was that like?
DD: Obviously it wasn't real basketball; it was a show. I didn't like the way the owner Manny Jackson did business. He said he didn't want to talk with the agents but wanted to talk with you. Only the showmen got paid big money. Everyone else got paid a little bit of money. Every year they brought in different guys to do different things and they would promise you everything -- and they paid you what they owed you -- but they promised you so much more and you would never get it. Some of the hotel situations overseas were not good with the Globetrotters, either.
KS: They also do so much marketing in recent years, right in the middle of games. They would stop the games, give away socks and all kinds of stuff.
DD: Yeah, they slowed it down, gave away all kinds of stuff. The best part is when they pull the kids out of the stands and let 'em shoot. A lot of guys had to get away and play real ball because they were saying, "That was messing my game up."
KS: Who are the best players today in your estimation?
DD: I watch mostly Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Shaq, and I like Iverson, [Tracy] McGrady and some other guys. I know I'll be criticized for saying Grant Hill is soft. But I always felt that way. You can't put a guy down when he's hurt. But when he played he was soft. He was still a good player, but he was just soft. Shaq is the premier center because he can play with his back to the basket, but most of the other guys playing center are really forwards. Kevin Garnett plays hard every night, and I know the people from Minnesota will get upset with me, but he has to leave Minnesota to win a championship, or they have to get him some help. Chris Webber is good, but when it comes to a big shot, we can't find him. He's always hiding behind a screen, which ends up putting the pressure on second-year men, but if you're in the playoffs and you're a big-money man, you should make big-money shots.
KS: You live in Allentown -- do you get a chance to smoke a cigar at home or on the road?
DD: I usually smoke at cigar dinners at Spinners Town Hotel in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.
KS: What do you like?
DD: I like a Macanudo, a Padrón -- any smooth, creamy smoke. I don't have one preference. I remember smoking a big Macanudo after we won the USBL championship game in 2001. So I smoke mostly in bars or restaurants, but not in the house, since we have the baby and with my wife pregnant.
KS: You talk about "black ball" and "white ball" in your book.
DD: The old white guys came off the pick, got their feet together and shot -- much more unselfish than black players. The white guys wanted to win as a team. You can get a team of five white guys to go out and beat a team of three superstars and two black guys. Because the superstars have to get their shots, they have to get the ball. A black guy had to have more junk in his trunk -- he had to be able to shake a guy off, cross him over, and point back and talk trash. Now there are some white guys talking trash, but back then they didn't do it. Anytime I saw a white guy talking trash and balling, I said he grew up with brothers. No doubt.
KS: How come you named the different dunks?
DD: It was all in fun. You know, I had the "Yo Mama" dunk, a "turbo sexophonic delight," and a "get out of the way, backboard swaying, if you ain't groovin' you best get movin'" dunk. I just did it because I had fun doing it and naming them was a lot of fun.
Kenneth Shouler, a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado, is a writer for and managing editor of the forthcoming Total Basketball: The Ultimate Basketball Encyclopedia (Sport Media Publishing Inc., 2003).
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