Dunk defines Dawkins, but thunder now distant


When he was shattering NBA backboards, Darryl Dawkins called his emphatic dunks "Chocolate Thunder." But Dawkins has exported his game to Europe and come up with a new name.

"It's still as thundering," said Dawkins, "but it's Italian Thunder now."

Two years ago, after playing with the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons during a 14-year NBA career, Dawkins took his power game to Italy to play for Phillips Milan.

He says he's eating well, making plenty of money and playing fewer games. He's happy, in good shape and doing what he wants to do.

"I'm 34, and I can play until I'm 38 over there," said Dawkins, who was in Baltimore yesterday to join a five-member panel judging the Colt 45 Thunder in the Streets Slam Dunk Challenge at Druid Hill Park.

"I'll never tell anybody how much money I am making, but I am living good," Dawkins said. "You play 30 games in Italy, and it's only one game a week. Over here, it's four games a week and 82 games. I can stay over there and play until I'm 40, but not over here."

He also has an educational plan, one that can take him beyond high school, from which he entered in the NBA in 1975.

"I've already paid for a college scholarship at Temple University in the School of Broadcasting," said Dawkins. "I plan to own and operate my own radio station one day. I figure I'll probably go there [to school] when I'm 38 or 39. It will take me two years. . . . I'll just do what I want to do with my radio station."

Dawkins' critics said that, with his size and strength (6 feet 11, 270 pounds), he should have done better than career averages of 12.0 points and 6.1 rebounds and done more to have helped teammate Julius Erving and the 76ers to a championship.

"I played 14 years in the NBA," said Dawkins. "I have a hell of a pension plan. I don't know how I can be an underachiever. I never won a championship, but I got paid every year, so how did I not achieve anything?

People forget that I was a leading field-goal percentage shooter for six years. They forget that I was averaging 10 rebounds and 16 to 18 points, so no matter what you do, you haven't done enough for somebody."

But is he still the dunk master?

"I was a power dunker," he said. "Every now and then, I would twist around a little bit, but I was strictly power. I wanted to crush whoever was under the basket.

"Now, these guys are spinning and turning and doing all kinds of stuff. I wouldn't be out here with these guys now. They are doing a lot of creative stuff, but I enjoyed doing what I was doing and still there isn't a cat around that can dunk the ball as hard as I can. But time changes things."

Yesterday's dunk competition was a perfect example of how dunk techniques have changed.

"You have to have a combination [of power and grace]," said James "Nintendo" Wilson, a 6-5, 25-year-old from Fort Washington, who finished third in the competition and won $245. "You have to be able to go up and be pretty up in the air, and, at the same time, you have to dunk it real hard. At the beginning of the [NBA] dunk contests, [Dawkins] might have won, but now it's going to the short man."

"His is more of a power dunk, but now you have guys doing more finesse dunks," said dunk champion Al Watson, 6-4, of Baltimore, who won $1,045. "But any time you break a backboard and then come back and do it again, you have to idolize something like that."

Wilson was the crowd favorite yesterday, acrobatically gliding through the air to make several sensational dunks to lead by a landslide in voting by the judges -- who also included former Maryland coach Bob Wade -- entering the championship round. Wilson failed on his most spectacular attempt. With his back to the basket, he bounced the ball through his legs, off the backboard and then barely missed the dunk as he caught the rebound and banged it hard off the rim. Wilson also missed his next attempt, allowing Watson to win with a double-pump, backward reverse slam off the backboard, earning a 10 from all the judges.

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