His chances for a happy ending are better than fair. While he can't jump as high or dunk as spectacularly as he once could, Dawkins is, in many ways, a more effective player than he was in the NBA. "It will take patience and fortitude," says Washington Bullet general manager John Nash, "because Darryl carries some baggage. But if he shows he is sincere about the profession, I can see him finding his way back to the NBA." (Dawkins's patience may be waning. He flew to his home in New Jersey over the weekend to talk with his agent about offers he has received from European teams.)
Last Thursday the Skyforce traveled to play the Shreveport (La.) Storm in front of roughly 500 people in the 8,400-seat Hirsch Coliseum. Dawkins entered the game with his team trailing 12-6, but by the time he dropped in a finger roll, swished a 17-foot turnaround jumper and then hit a teammate with a three-quarter-court football pass for a layup after a steal, Florida was up 18-16. The Skyforce went on to win 107-101, and Dawkins finished with 14 points, five rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes. In the third quarter, after Dawkins fed a teammate with a blind, behind-the-head, crosscourt pass, two NBA scouts sitting at courtside looked at each other, their eyebrows raised. One of them was Larry Wright, a former NBA guard who played against Dawkins and who now scouts for the Nets. "The young Darryl Dawkins was always in a hurry to make something happen," says Wright. "He's smarter now. He's not in as much of a hurry, and he's seeing things."
An hour after the game, Dawkins sits at the counter of a nearby Waffle House, where he has come for a late, light dinner. An elderly man to his left politely asks, "Excuse me, but who are you?"
"I'm Darryl Dawkins. I'm a basketball player."
"I've heard of you," says the old-timer.
"Well, I've been around for 20 years," says Dawkins, whose professional longevity is a source of amazement even to himself. "I've had fewer injuries than guys who have played six or seven years." He attributes his good fortune "to the prayers of my family." When his dinner arrives—three eggs, lightly scrambled, with American cheese and white toast—he says grace, then covers the dish with pepper.
"When people think of Darryl Dawkins, they think about the dunks," he says. "But I've always been able to hit the 15- to 17-foot jump shot."
People also remember the attention-starved man-child who came into the league without benefit of college in 1975, expounding on such topics as "interplanetary funks-manship" and claimed to have arrived from the planet Lovetron. They think of custodians sweeping up Plexiglas fragments from the two backboards he shattered within 22 days in 1979. And they think of the elaborate names he made up for his most memorable dunks. (Our favorite: "Chocolate Thunder Flying, Robinzine Crying, Teeth Shaking, Glass Breaking, Rump Roasting, Bun Toasting, Wham, Bam, I Am Jam," which commemorates a backboard-breaking slam over Kansas City King Bill Robinzine.)
What fans do not think of when they reflect on Dawkins is a man who says grace in public. They would be surprised to learn that their perceptions of him are as outmoded as a Bee Gees eight-track tape. But the passing of his days as the Dunkateer saddens Dawkins not in the least. Monster dunks are not part of the description of the job he seeks in the NBA. "These teams aren't looking for a guy to take over the game," he says. "They're looking for someone to give you three, four, five minutes a quarter, bump and bang, get a few rebounds." Dawkins sends this message to NBA general managers who are afraid he might upset the chemistry of their team: "Nobody in the world can go 20 years and not change at all. I can get the job done."
Chocolate Thunder could not be more serious. No offense to the good people of Sioux Falls—"They've been great to me," he says—but he does not want his book to end in South Dakota.