A sweet shattering

Basketball Digest,  Nov-Dec, 2004  by Chuck O'Donnell

HARVEY POLLACK STILL HANDS out the shards of glass as mementos.

"I give a lot of speeches, and if someone answers one of my trivia questions right," said the longtime Philadelphia 76ers statistician, "they get a piece."

A piece of history, you could say. On December 5, 1979, Darryl Dawkins dunked with such Hulk-like brute force that he ripped the rim from the backboard and left glass strewn across the Spectrum floor. Pollack says the best word to describe the crowd's reaction was "open-mouthed awe."

The rim was left sitting helplessly on the ground. The sound, Chocolate Thunder remembers, was something like "Blaaaaammmmm!"

Dawkins had laid a basket to waste three weeks earlier in Kansas City, but he says this second one was more special. As the 25th anniversary of the dunks approaches, Dawkins remembers: "I was scared with the first one. I dunked it and the glass went everywhere. I didn't know what was happening. I ran out of there faster than anyone. But by the second one, I could control what I wanted to do."

The whole idea of shattering a backboard evolved from Dawkins' flair for, shall we say, showmanship. Dawkins knew his first responsibility to the Sixers was to be the best player he could, but a close second was entertaining the crowd. Just because you qualify in the first category doesn't mean you qualify for the second. Dawkins, a fun-loving, free-spirited man-child, wanted to qualify in both--and he was going to do it one thunderous slam dunk at a time.

He began to name his dunks like they were his children. There was the The Rim Wrecker. The Go-Rilla. The Spine Chiller Supreme. The Look Out Below. The In-Your-Face Disgrace. The Cover Your Head.

"The first one was called Yo Mama," says Dawkins, 47, who coached the Pennsylvania ValleyDawgs to the USBL championship last spring. "I dunked on someone and turned to them and said, 'Yo Mama.' We just started laughing.

"After the game, a reporter came up to me and asked what that dunk was called. I told them that was the Yo Mama. I just started giving them names after that

On November 13, 1979, Dawkins achieved what he calls "cult-hero status" with his backboard-breaking dunk over Bill Robinzine of the Kansas City Kings. He rose to the basket, cocked his hands back over his head, and hit the basket with all the power his 6'10", 260-pound frame could muster. The result, one former player recalled, was a sound like a bomb going off inside Kansas City's Memorial Auditorium. A rain of glass nicked up Robinzine and even became lodged in Julius Erving's afro.

Dawkins invented a nickname befitting this dunk: The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam.

Even in a time before all-sports networks were beamed into 100 million American homes, Dawkins' dunks transcended basketball and became part of pop culture history. They were some of the most replayed moments in the history of the six o'clock news. Dawkins achieved almost the same kind of instant celebrity Paris Hilton did--minus the sex tape.

After Dawkins broke his second backboard, cementing his icon status, commissioner Larry O'Brien called him in for a chat. While O'Brien was probably doing cartwheels in his office at all the publicity Dawkins' backboard-shattering dunks brought a league struggling for a place on America's radar screen, the slams were followed by long lulls while every last janitor tried to pick up every last piece of glass. And what if that particular arena didn't happen to have a backup backboard? What if someone got really hurt? What if some of the players--assuming anyone else could generate enough power--began breaking backboards? Where would it all end?

"[O'Brien] figured out that I could break the backboards whenever I wanted to," Dawkins says. "I had figured out the same thing. So he threatened to fine me $5,000 and suspend me a game every lime I broke one."

Soon, breakaway rims were rushed into use and backboards from Philadelphia to Phoenix could breathe a sigh of relief. No NBA backboard has been broken since, although Dawkins says he broke two while playing in Italy a few years back.

For Dawkins, his life would never be the same. He would always be the guy who broke the backboards. No matter where he has traveled in his life, that's the first thing people want to talk to him about.

"Once I was in Hong Kong, and a guy came up to me," Dawkins says. "He said he had just come into Philadelphia from Hong Kong and had gotten tickets for the game that night. He said he stayed up all night because he was so happy to see a broken backboard in his first game."

COPYRIGHT 2004 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group