Sunday, September 06, 2015

BK Nets: How Darryl Dawkins planted his flag in Bernard King's house

From the desk of:  

1957 - 2015
New Jersey Nets
1982 - 1987

BROOKLYN NETS: Darryl Dawkins planted his flag on Flatbush Avenue long before the team arrived, back during the wildly popular Bernard King's County era.

The Nets enterprise obviously enjoyed its greatest success when they played on Long Island. Spanning three years between 1973-1976, the New York Nets averaged 56 wins per season and captured 2 ABA championships.

Julius Erving was then infamously sold to the Philadelphia 76ers, while the team itself moved to New Jersey after the 1976-1977 season.  After which, the transplanted Nets unavoidably posted four consecutive sub-par seasons.

Then led by notables such as Otis Birdsong and Buck Williams, and coached by Larry Brown, the 1981-1982 the Nets finally emerged from the second division to join the ranks of Eastern Conference contenders.  Their 44-38 record was the team's first winning campaign since fleeing Long Island, and also earned them their first ever NBA playoff appearance.

For the 1982-1983 season, Birdsong and Williams, Mike Gminski, Sleepy Floyd, Len Elmore, Albert King, and the troubled Michael Ray Richardson, welcomed Darryl Dawkins into the fold.

Dawkins, affectionately known as Chocolate Thunder, was a center by trade, and was acquired from the 76ers to clog up the paint.  He did just that, and in fact led the league in personal fouls for two straight seasons upon his arrival.

His first two seasons with the Nets were by far his healthiest.  He played 81 games each year, and provided the Nets with double-digit scoring and 6 rebounds per game.

Overall, and despite injuries, I remember Dawkins playing an integral role in helping put a New Jersey team on the map.  With him, the Nets continued a run of 5 straight playoff appearances - without him, I'm not so sure.

He along with Dominique Wilkins, Dr. J of course, along with a few others, were the original highlight films before the spread of cable TV and prominence of ESPN.

Darryl was famously known for naming his dunks, and long before Bo Jackson arrived snapping baseball bats across his knee, Chocolate Thunder became notorious for shattering NBA backboards and making them rain glass.  The George Michaels' Sports Machine never failed in featuring a big Double-D Dunk of the Week.

That was cool back then...

He played for New Jersey during my mid-teens, obviously very impressionable years during one's life.

I've always been the type that when my favorite teams are idle, or even between commercials, I watch the other locals as intently.  To me, that's the beauty and benefit of being a sports fan in New York - or the symptoms of being a sports junkie.  Your choice.

The Nets (Devils and Jets) never inspired that Rangers/Islanders or Mets/Yankees "sports hatred" situation for me.  Yours truly found the New Jersey Nets of the 1980's an entertaining watch for as long as they weren't beating the Knicks.

The Knicks were the second team I ever came to know and root for as a young child after the Mets.

As a charter member of the NBA, the Knicks have long reigned over all of Empire City.

Yet, on any given city playground or cleverly devised and improvised basketball court during the 1980's - even deep within local hero Bernard King's own home turf - many a Brooklyn kid could be heard invoking the name of Chocolate Thunder! in assault of their playground rim.

I did...  In the 1980's, you did too!

When kids (then or now) invoke a player's name during local pick-up games, you know that player is somebody.  As Reggie Jackson once declared, "Fans don't boo nobodys."

In those days, going Chocolate Thunder on someone was the only credible response to having someone gone Bernard King all up in your face first.  Trust me, no one was getting Rory Sparrow on each other, nor were they flexing their inner Darwin Cook.  Lets face it, trying to go Otis or Buck on someone would have been weak as well.  You know the deal.

All I know is here in Brooklyn, for both Knicks and whatever Nets fans alike, Darryl Dawkins was the only answer if someone got all Bernard King on you in the park.

For my humble experience, we played with a friend whom we permanently renamed Chuck over his obscene proclivity for launching bricks.  But every time he did go BerNARD! on me, I resorted to Chocolate Thunder every time.

Around here, he somehow became a playground legend in defiance of a King.

Both on and off the court, he was one of the most gregarious persons on the planet.  I didn't understand that about him prior to his arrival from Philadelphia.  But I grew to know it well.

Darryl Dawkins passed away in August, and will be missed.

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