WHEN Dennis Rodman first came over to Manila with some retired National Basketball Association (NBA) players for a game in 2006, I was working on the staff of the organizing committee that brought them over. Naturally I tried to secure an interview with him no matter how short. We did speak and I have to admit that it was a rather friendly conversation more than an interview, as it was held courtside during warm-ups and it lasted for roughly five minutes. It wasn’t anything story-worthy and being unable to get any anecdote and quote out of Rodman, I turned to the other former NBA stars. There was former Denver Nuggets star Alex English and Mikwaukee Bucks stud Sidney Moncrief, but the one I wanted to speak with was Darryl Dawkins, the former Philadelphia 76ers center.
I grew up a 76ers fan before I switched my allegiances to the Chicago Bulls following Julius Erving’s retirement. I was upset at Sixers management for trading Moses Malone away and for nearly sending Erving to another team.
Dawkins was a part of that Sixers squad that I first followed in the late 1970s and it was back when they had that run, gun and dunk lineup that tantalized and teased greatness but never achieved anything.
This was before the age of cable television and the Internet, and any stories and death-defying feats by “The Doctor” and company were spread merely by word of mouth. Yet, this is what makes this legend.
And I wanted so badly to talk to this legend who was tons of fun and slew basketball rims.
As it turned out, I did get to talk to him, twice, however briefly. One inside the locker room as we brought in some refreshments and bananas, and one very short one as he lumbered into the coach that was to take them to their hotel following the match.
The first one, quick as I only had five minutes, revealed a reflective man with his gift for gab.
Rick: You predated Shaq with your famous dunks and fun-loving nature even playing with the Harlem Globetrotters. Was that your real personality that came shining through?
Darryl: People forget that I was a teenager entering the NBA. Didn’t play college ball. I was a kid in a man’s world. People wanted me to be Wilt Chamberlain, but I was a kid. When I think back, whether it was a mistake to go straight to the NBA or not, well, I did what I had to do at that time. And when I got there, I wanted to be myself and have fun. And I did.
But thank you for saying that Shaq-thing. I don’t think anybody has ever said that to me.
Rick: You’re welcome. I’ll follow up on that thought about teens and pro-basketball: Should high-school phenoms go to college first before going to the NBA?
Darryl: Definitely. Won’t hurt to mature a bit and learn more from the game through your college coach.
Rick: Those backboard-breaking dunks—did you want to bring some more of them down?
Darryl: I tried to bring the funk every time, but the NBA said I’d get a fine and a suspension. And we (the Sixers) lost both games where the backboard went down. So that was good-bye to that love.
Rick: What was it like playing alongside Dr. J?
Darryl: You know Bundini Brown?
Rick: Yeah. Muhammad Ali’s street poet of a cornerman.
Darryl: That’s a ways of putting it. The brother should have written verse for The Doctor, I’m telling you. Think of the poetry. I could put a name to my dunks, but Julius…. I have to stop at “amazing.” Bundini would be tongue-tied to describe Doc.
At that point, we had to cut short the interview because the dressing room had to be cleared of non-team personnel. I had so many more questions to ask in pursuit of a story that I hoped would match those that I read as a kid, from Sports Illustrated and Sport, two American magazines I devoured in feverish pursuit of knowledge. All I had were a few quotes that weren’t enough to make a meaningful feature-length story.
After the match, I was able to get a picture with Dawkins and one last quick conversation.
Rick: I hope to visit Lovetron one day.
Darryl: Oh, you’ll love it there.
Darryl: Maybe I’ll even meet ya at the airport.
The man, not as spry as he once was, ambled up the bus and waved.
Darryl Dawkins did make one more trip to the Philippines, but I was out of the country when that happened. I silently kicked myself for missing that. There goes that Dawkins story I always wanted to pen.
On August 27 Darryl, at 58 years of age, passed away due to a heart attack. As soon as I heard the news, I paused to pray for him and his family and reflect. I’ve interviewed a lot of NBA players and he was one of those who I was really thrilled to meet as a former Philly Phan.
It still pains me to think that some of my fave Sixers—Dawkins and Steve Mix, never got to win a title. Odd choices, considering Philly had a cast of stars, like Doc, Doug Collins, the Boston Strangler, Mo and Little Mo, Bobby Jones, and when Philadelphia finally won it in 1983, they did so with Moses Malone playing center. Dawkins was sent to New Jersey while Mix went to the Los Angeles Lakers who played Philadelphia for that title that year.
I wanted to ask Darryl about being left out of the big prize and how he dealt with it.
And maybe it is just as well that I didn’t. Because, I’ll remember him—including that short five-minute interview with the man—for what he stood for. A pretty good, yet entertaining and always quotable basketball player.