'Chocolate Thunder' Never Lost Taste For The Spectrum
Two decades later, Darryl Dawkins can still hear the noise.
It’s almost as if he is still throwing down dunks at the Spectrum and Sixers fans are going bizerk with each and every rim-rattling slam.
The truth is, it’s been 27 years since Dawkins played for the Sixers, 20 years since he played in the NBA and 13 years since the Spectrum housed an NBA game of any kind.
But some things in life, like the atmosphere in that old, cozy arena, don’t get forgotten over time.
“(The energy) would be right in your pocket,” Dawkins, now 52, said in a recent conference call. “It would be so loud in there that you would be running back down the floor, giving everybody (in the crowd) a high-five. It would be off the charts right there in the Spectrum. The floor would vibrate — that’s what it would feel like.”
As much as anyone who played at the Spectrum, Dawkins fed off the energy of the fans. His game was built on intimidation and energy, and that’s exactly what the South Philly venue offered the Sixers 41 days a year.
“My best memory was when they started cheering my name — Dawkins! Dawkins! Dawkins!” he recalled. “I was like, ‘I’ve arrived. I’m big time now. Big Daddy’s on the beach.’”
The 6-foot-11 center was the Sixers’ first-round draft pick in 1975 out of Maynard Evans High School in Orlando. He was one of the first players to ever be drafted straight out of high school and averaged just 2.4 points as a rookie in 1975-76.
However, despite the slow start to his professional career, it didn’t take long for the 18-year-old to fall in love with his new home.
“Being a young guy, a country kid from Florida, and coming to Philadelphia and seeing the fans all screaming, it was mind-blowing and special when they started cheering for me,” Dawkins said. “I really did enjoy that.”
In his best statistical season with the Sixers, Dawkins averaged 14.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 1979-80. He helped the team reach the NBA finals that season but was traded to New Jersey two years later and missed out on the Sixers’ championship party in 1983.
Those were the glory days at the Spectrum, where the Sixers played from 1967 to 1996 before moving across the street to the Wachovia Center.
But while their new home is impressive, their only home was, well, home.
“When I walked in, I always tried to feed off the energy,” Dawkins said. “World B. Free always told me, ‘When you go in there, you either do it big or you don’t do it.’”
And if anyone went big, it was Dawkins. The self-appointed “Chocolate Thunder” was known for his ferocious slams, broken backboards and even naming each of his dunks.
Perhaps the Sixers will pay homage to Dawkins when they host the Bulls in the last ever game at the Spectrum on Friday night. Maybe Andre Iguodala will throw down a “Spine-Chiller Supreme” or Sam Dalembert will introduce Tyrus Thomas to the “In Your Face Disgrace.”
Better yet, if Marreese Speights breaks a backboard on Friday night, he can honor Dawkins by borrowing the name he used for his backboard-shattering dunk in 1979: The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam.
Now that would be a fitting tribute to the final game at the Spectrum.
“There were some great people down there,” said Dawkins, who recalled playing 1-on-1 with Free every day before practice. “To see it come down after being there so long, it’s hard to see. You can’t stand in the way of technology, but it’s hard to see.”
Walk Down Memory Lane
The Web site RememberTheSpectrum.com offers an assortment of memories about the Spectrum, from former Sixers players and coaches to Sixers fans and even celebrities.
“It was a great place to play,” said Maurice Cheeks, who played for the Sixers from 1978-89 and coached the team from 2005-08. “Those were my years. I still think about the Spectrum when I drive to the Wachovia Center. It was a great place to play and I’m really, really going to miss it.
“There was an energy there, a passion that came from the fans and spilled over into how the players played. That was what that building was all about, almost like it had a pulse itself.”
Love for the Spectrum is clearly universal, as Charles Barkley — who couldn’t be more different than Cheeks as a person or a player — also had wonderful things to say about his first NBA arena.
“I have great memories of that place, because I played my first game there in ’84,” said Barkley, who began his Hall of Fame career with the Sixers from 1984-92. “Probably the night they retired my jersey was the most special night for me. It was awesome. As a player, there is no single moment better than when an organization retires your jersey.”
Former NBA coach Paul Westhead remembers the Spectrum primarily for the 1980 NBA finals, when his Lakers clinched the championship there. But the Philadelphia native also coached at the Spectrum with La Salle from 1970-79 and admitted that he’ll never forget those Big 5 battles at Broad and Pattison.
“It was a big-time arena, but there was a real mystique to it,” Westhead said. “The Spectrum pretty much covered it all when you think of basketball and big games. I hate to see it go, but I’ll never forget it.”
Friday, March 13, 2009