The year after
that, my first as a head coach, Dawkins got off to a great start and then had a
back injury necessitating the first of two operations to repair disk problems.
A measure of Dawkins's value to that team: With him in the lineup our record
was 29-22; without him we were 10-21.
against Dawkins during my last three years as a player with Houston and New
Jersey and now having coached him, I have seen him come full circle. In writing
this story I have listened to all the opinions, excuses and reasons for why his
career has turned out the way it has. And many times I agreed with what was
being told me because I had gone through similar experiences with Dawkins.
Yet, trying to
define Darryl Dawkins is difficult indeed. There are so many different Darryl
Dawkinses, and each seems inconsistent with the others.
There is the man
who shows enormous love and care for his family. He has bought homes for both
his mother and grandmother. He supports other family members.
There are the
hours during the Christmas holidays when he gladly tours the children's and
veterans' wards of local hospitals, looking as if being there gives him more
pleasure than it does those he visits.
Kids flock to him
at games, at summer clinics or just in the street. He never turns them away. He
is a master at drawing them out, telling them they must owe him some money,
don't they? He gives them nicknames that make them giggle.
When Free was
lying on the floor after being injured in a playoff game in 1977, Dawkins was
so concerned about his friend that he picked him up in his arms and carried him
all the way to the dressing room, as though Free were his little brother. Yet
when Dawkins thought his teammates did not back him up sufficiently during a
fight with Maurice Lucas in the second game of the '76-77 NBA finals against
the Portland Trail Blazers, he was so enraged that he tore lockers from the
walls, caved in a toilet stall and barricaded the door so that the team could
not get back into the dressing room in the Spectrum.
There were other
sides to his personality. He says he had problems with his first two business
agents, which left him bitter. Eventually he wound up owing the IRS a great
deal of money and had a lien slapped on his salary, and the bank that held the
mortgage on the house he bought for his mother threatened foreclosure. He
sometimes refuses to pay small debts. Lewis Schaffel, the former Nets chief
operating officer, recalls, "I could call him up at the last minute to do a
clinic, and he would always come. But if he owed you five dollars, you could
never find him."
He was equally
hard to figure on the court. I congratulated him once when he got 10 rebounds.
He looked up and said, "Thanks, but don't expect that tomorrow night."
He was afraid that if he kept performing at a high level, everyone would expect
it and sooner or later he would disappoint them.
The list of
stories about Dawkins—funny or sad or compassionate or interplanetary—is
endless, but the stories are camouflage. They obscure the big question: Why
wasn't Dawkins great? Erving says, "Darryl wasn't driven to be the greatest
basketball player ever. Knowing him, that was probably for the best. His
personality might not have let him deal well with that level of success."
Erving recalls his own days at the top of the ABA: "There were many times I
wanted to run for cover. There were definitely times it became