SI Vault
Dave Wohl
April 11, 1988
Did Darryl Dawkins, Sir Slam, fail to live up to the great expectations of his fans and his NBA coaches? A former coach searches for the answer
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April 11, 1988

Manchild In The Nba

Did Darryl Dawkins, Sir Slam, fail to live up to the great expectations of his fans and his NBA coaches? A former coach searches for the answer

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Dawkins remembers how impressionable he was that first year: "I'd come into the locker room at halftime and one guy would be smoking a cigarette and another would be drinking a beer. I just did the same thing."

The team was a great draw on the road, fueled as much by the controversial statements that appeared in the press as by the display of talent on the floor. No one was readier with a quote, a quip, an impersonation or an observation on life than Dawkins. Neil Funk, the team's broadcaster at the time, says, "Darryl got lost in the shuffle early with that team. He wasn't playing much at first, and he tried to get attention with his personality. He tried more than anyone to say the most outrageous or controversial thing."

Dawkins's imagination was wondrous. He could entertain with tales of interplanetary space travel or, on a moment's notice, deliver a lecture on the definition of funk—not Neil. He had a larger-than-life personality and the timing of a stand-up comic. One moment he would be talking seriously with Collins about his wish to get married and start a family, and a moment later he would walk outside the locker room and announce to the waiting throng that he was throwing a party and every woman in the city of Philadelphia was invited.

Funk believes Dawkins utilized this kind of behavior as a shield. "Darryl was scared that he wasn't going to be everything that people projected him to be," Funk says. "To relieve some of that pressure he hid behind his outrageous personality. What 20-year-old wouldn't be scared in that situation?" Though reluctant to admit it, when pressed, Dawkins will confess to the fear. "Yeah, sometimes it scared me a little." he says. "I didn't know what else I could do to satisfy everyone. Everyone always expected more."

Especially the 76ers. They reached the NBA finals three times during Dawkins's years in Philadelphia, but gradually management's patience faded, and he was traded, in 1982 at age 25, to the New Jersey Nets.

"Darryl, do you know where they signed the Declaration of Independence?"

"Of course. At the bottom," responded Double D.

The trade to New Jersey left Dawkins with the feeling that his career was bottoming out. He had parted on bitter terms with 76ers owner Harold Katz, who made no secret of his belief that Darryl just did not consistently work hard enough for the money he was being paid. Dawkins, who had come back after breaking a leg during the season to participate in the playoffs, thought the gesture was proof enough of his heart.

In New Jersey he went through four coaches in five years, including myself in his last two seasons. He had both his best and his worst seasons with the Nets.

He either played well or was recovering from injuries; as always there seemed to be no happy middle ground for him. In 1984-85, after what Don Nelson thought would be the turning point in Dawkins's career, he suffered a back injury and missed 43 games.

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