"Big Chocolate, how are you, my brother!" This was the heartfelt, half-right greeting tendered by Manute Bol to Darryl Dawkins when they ran into each other at the West Palm Beach Auditorium last week. Dawkins's nickname is Chocolate Thunder, but no one corrected Bol. Dawkins was the only 6'11", 280-pound black guy in the vicinity, so you had a pretty good idea whom Bol was addressing.
Nowadays these eccentric former NBA centers are marking time in the Continental Basketball Association: Bol, 33, for the Florida Beachdogs; the 38-year-old Dawkins for the Sioux Falls (S.Dak.) Skyforce. While they wait for some pivot-man on the next level to tweak a knee, they are eating on $25 a day and drifting off to sleep at Days Inns and Travelodges.
On Dec. 6 the Skyforce visited the upside-down wok that houses the Beachdogs' home court, and Bol and Dawkins, whose NBA careers overlapped from the 1985-86 season through '88-89, made small talk at the pregame shoot-around. When they parted company, both were smiling—and why not? When times are tough, it's comforting to know that you're not the only one who has come down in the world.
"Chocolate Thunder vs. the Seven-Foot Wonder" was how the Beachdogs billed the game. Although the come-on shortchanged the 7'7" Bol by more than half a foot, it did capture the exotic possibilities of the rematch between the self-proclaimed time traveler from the Planet Lovetron and the erstwhile Sudanese shepherd.
It was a mild disappointment that neither Chocolate Thunder nor the Seven-Foot Wonder started the game. When they did get in, Dawkins and Bol spent a total of only 11½ minutes on the court together, because Bol ran into early foul trouble. Upon being whistled for his fourth personal of the second quarter, the Dinka tribesman vented his frustration by repeating two profanities over and over. Neither his arsenal of shots nor his repertoire of epithet: has expanded since November 1994, when he was last seen in the NBA, with the Golden State Warriors.
Dawkins, meanwhile, has been out of our horizon nearly as long as Amelh Earhart. After 14 NBA seasons with four teams (the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons), Sir Slam packed his bags and headed oversea in 1989. He played five seasons in the Italian League and one with the Harlem Globetrotters. Dawkins found his experience in Italy to be culturally and gastro nomically enriching. He and his wife Robbie, learned Italian, and Darryl tool up cooking. "Once you get back from Italy, you can't eat pasta," he says. "Over there, they make it fresh every day. After that, the stuff we have over here tastes like cardboard."
This passion for cooking probably contributed to Dawkins's being 25 pounds overweight when he showed up at the Boston Celtics' training camp in September. After the Celtics cut him, citing his corpulence, he put in a call to the Skyforce, whose training camp he had attended in 1994 and who this year offered him a contract.
Playing 22 minutes in the rubber pants and waistband that he says have helped him drop those 25 pounds, Dawkins had 17 points—including one dunk over Bol—six rebounds and only two fouls in his team's 112-99 loss to the Beachdogs. Bol's line: no shots, no points, two boards, six blocks and six fouls in 13 minutes.
Truth be told, there were long stretches of play when the 2,800 spectators forgot both the Dunkateer and the Human Erector Set. The best player on the court was Florida guard Stanley Jackson, who scored 31 points and played terrific defense. Jackson's 25 first-half points included the evening's most savage dunk—a reverse, double-pump jam off a stolen in-bounds pass. (It almost certainly did not occur to Jackson, as he hung on the collapsible rim, that he was sharing the court with the serial backboard shatterer who inspired the widespread use of such rims.)
As old big men, Bol and Dawkins are doubly anomalous in the CBA, a guard's league in which the average player is barely 26. Since he arrived in Florida for his CBA stint, the usually cheerful Bol has been less than ecstatic. He is angered and puzzled that Beachdog coach Eric Musselman plays him, in Bol's words, "twenty-five minutes one night, four minutes the next." He misses his wife, Atong, and four children, who stayed behind in Washington, D.C. He also misses the comfort of first-class NBA travel. Now, like Ned, the Dr. Seuss character whose "feet stick out of bed," Bol must pull a cot up to the foot of his bed to keep his legs from dangling off the end. Air travel, during which he is scrunched up in the coach section, is torture for him, as the Beachdogs cannot afford to fly him first-class. "It's killing me," says Bol. "Sometimes I ask myself, Why did I come to the CBA?"