76ers' Dawkins delivers pizazz and points

The people who write Johnny Carson's monologues would never produce enough bizarre material for center Darryl Dawkins of the Philadelphia 76ers, who talks about "interplanetary funksmanship" the way most people talk about the economy.

Dawkins, at 6 ft. 11 in. and 255 pounds, is currently a very visible part of the National Basketball Association's Eastern Conference playoff finals between Philadelphia and the Boston Celtics. One can hardly miss his occasionally shaved and oiled head or his single gold earring.

He's been an awesome performer, too -- especially in the opener of the best-of-seven series, when his 23 points, 10 rebounds, and intimidating inside defense led the 76ers to a 96-93 victory. Darryl made one incredible block of an attempted dunk by Cedric Maxwell that had to be seen to be believed, while on offense it was his three clutch fourth-period baskets after the score had been tied at 88-all that finally put the 76ers ahead to stay and enabled them to seize the home court advantage in this long-awaited showdown between the two Eastern powers.

Back in 1975 at age 18 Dawkins became the first high school player (with the exception of Wilt Chamberlain, who didn't play until his college class graduated) ever to be drafted by an NBA franchise. Philadelphia reportedly gave Darryl a seven-year contract at $1 million, then played him only 165 minutes as a rookie and not much more the next season.

What little on-the-job training Dawkins got only pointed up how much he had to learn, and probably was the chief reason he once asked to be traded. But the acorn really did grow into an oak. By his third season Darryl had become an NBA personality as well as a spectacular though inconsistent performer. Network television was reluctant to take its cameras off him for fear they might miss something.

This year Dawkins was third on the 76ers (behind Julius Erving and Caldwell Jones) in minutes played; and established a new personal high in rebounds.

Darryl also continued his spectacular dunking, which has twice resulted in shattered glass backboards (whose pieces one NBA janitor tried to sell for profit) and at least one trip to the commissioner's office for a verbal spanking.

Dawkins is a newspaperman's delight. You don't have to bother with anything as mundane as questions with Darryl. The mere sight of a ball-point pen or a tape recorder is all that's needed to set his tongue wagging and his imagination into motion.

Dawkins claims to live on his own planet, Lovetron (which he later renamed Chocolate Paradise). He drives a customized Corvette that would embarrass Batman and Robin; and who is to say that the gold chains around his neck are not a threat to Fort Knox.

Darryl's car is worth pursuing. It is a metallic blue, flaked with gold, with enough pinstriping to let that craftsman retire early and financially independent. When Dawkins puts even one finger on the undersize steering wheel, it has a tendency to become toylike in appearance. But it's hard for anyone looking at Darryl's car to focus on any one thing, since it has two chrome lion figurines on the fenders, special tail fins, and mirrors built into the hood.

In Philadelphia, it is easier to recognize Dawkins's answer to transportation from a distance than the statue of Benjamin Franklin. This also holds true on days when Ben is flying his kite.

Although Dawkins, now a mature 23, is seldom compared as a showman with Muhammad Ali or one-time wrestler Gorgeous George, he has learned his lessons well. He never misses a beat or a microphone.

Dawkins's monologues and one-liners are epics, made even more wonderful by the innocent way they are delivered. I think my favorite has to do with the word nothing.

"Nothing means nothing," Dawkins once told the press. "But it really isn't nothing, because nothing is something that isn't."

As a pro basketball player, Dawkins is just beginning to find himself. The crest of his personal mountain is still there, maybe four, years away. He's got physical skills that haven't been seen in the NBA since Chamberlain retired, and he is also getting a grip on the mental side of the game.

Dawkins occasionally writes poetry -- about love, about his family, and about what has happened so far in his life. You might also like to know that with his first NBA paycheck and bonus he bought his mother a four-bedroom house.

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