Friday, August 28, 2015

Thundering bygone

The man was a throwback, and it's not everyday you can say that about a guy who went 6-11 and 275. The only individual ever likely to throw Darryl Dawkins anywhere, after all, was Darryl Dawkins.

When he died yesterday of a heart attack at 58, you remembered the handles he invented for himself (Sir Slam, Chocolate Thunder), and that he claimed to hail from the Planet Lovetron, and that he was a shatterer of worlds, or at least of backboards. Even now, you can't think of him without also hearing the tinkling of glass, and without remembering his charming habit of naming the dunks for which he became famous.

My personal fave:  The "If You Ain't Groovin' Best Get Movin', Chocolate Thunder Flyin', Robinzine Cryin', Teeth Shakin', Glass Breakin', Rump Roastin', Bun Toastin', Glass Still Flyin', Wham Bam I Am Jam."

This upon the occasion of breaking his first NBA backboard.

 But if his legacy was to introduce breakaway rims and make the NBA a sunnier place, it was also to usher in the era of the manchild. Moses Malone was the first kid to jump to pro buckets right from high school -- he went from Petersburg, Va., to the Utah Stars of the ABA in 1974 -- but Bill Willoughby and Dawkins were next, entering the NBA draft in 1975. They were the lineal of descendants of a line that stretched off toward Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, and included far more failures than successes.

To the extent that the NBA eventually instituted its 19-year-old age limit, a bit of good intention that has turned college basketball into a bus stop for high school stars who now need somewhere to pass the time for a year before turning pro. It's changed the essential nature of college hoops, and not for the good. And it's utterly unnecessary, given that one year makes no more than an incremental difference in the maturity level of kids that age, and that, in any case, if the NBA were serious about  seasoning raw young pros, it could simply stash them in the D-League for a year.

But the NBA won't do that. And so there is a whiff of nostalgia now at Chocolate Thunder's passing, the lingering scent of a bygone era. You wonder now, if he'd come along in this century instead of the last, if his career would have looked any differently. And you come to the inescapable conclusion that it wouldn't have, that delaying his entry into the NBA a year wouldn't have altered his essential nature (or his career trajectory) an iota.

Chocolate Thunder at 18 was still Chocolate Thunder at 19, after all. And at 21 and 25 and 30 and, yes, 58.

Some things a single year can never change. Most things, in fact.

Something the NBA should pause to consider, as it pauses to remember.

No comments:

Post a Comment