Despite disappointments in Philadelphia, Dawkins says he can help some team win

There are a lot of people who think that Darryl Dawkins, who got a million-dollar contract in 1975 to turn pro with the Philadelphia 76ers, is the kind of player who regularly gives his almost!

Translation: there is a wide variation in Dawkins' on-court intensity from game to game.

Darryl, now with the New Jersey Nets, was 18 at the time he signed with Philadelphia - the first player to go directly from high school into the National Basketball Association.

Although he was lacking in fundamentals, the 76ers said that Dawkins would eventually be great - not an unreasonable assumption for a man who stands just under 7 ft. tall, has hands that can surround a basketball, and possesses the ability to slam dunk in spectacular fashion.

Sometimes, though, it seemed that Darryl was less interested in developing into a complete basketball player than in being a showman. He began calling himself Chocolate Thunder; talked about living on the planet Lovetron; arrayed himself in an assortment of gold chains including one lettered ''Sir Dunk,'' and attracted even more attention by driving a Corvette with a chrome lion on each of the front fenders.

But Darryl's chief dream, he said, was to destroy an NBA backboard with one of his ''Teeth Shatterin', Glass Breakin', Wham, Bam, I am Jam'' dunks. When he shattered two backboards in 1980 within the space of 22 days, not everyone was pleased with the results.

It wasn't Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show that called for his presence, but NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien, who provided his old monologue that included a substantial fine.

The fact that Dawkins has never delivered what the public had been led to believe he someday would doesn't necessarily mean that Darryl is not a good basketball player.

For the past six years, with Dawkins at center, the 76ers have had the best regular-season record of any team in the NBA. The problem is that Philadelphia was never able to win a playoff title with Darryl, although it went to the finals three times. And every time it lost, Darryl had to shoulder the bulk of the blame.

Asked why he felt the 76ers had traded him to New Jersey during the off-season for the Nets' No. 1 pick in 1983 plus an undisclosed amount of money, Dawkins replied:

''They knew in Philadelphia that Moses Malone was going to be available either in a trade or as a free agent. They didn't think they could win a playoff championship with me, so they went out and got him. Malone grabs a lot of rebounds and they like that. But that doesn't mean that someday I can't help some other team win a title.

''My role with New Jersey is different than it was in Philadelphia. Here I can't expect to average much more than 35 min. a game because court time has to be found for too many other players. Here there is less pressure. Here I just do my job and I don't talk back to no coaches.''

New Jersey coach Larry Brown is so reluctant to discuss Dawkins's ability as a player, plus reports that the Nets have been shopping him around the league, that all a writer really ends up with from Brown is a lot of generalities.

''One thing I won't get into with the press about Dawkins are his weaknesses, '' Larry told me in Los Angeles. ''We're not out to put pressure on Darryl, we're only out to help him. Dawkins did some good things with Philadelphia and he's done some good things with us. I think if we're all patient with each other , it will work out.''

Coming into the NBA right out of high school, of course, left Dawkins without the fundamentals that a player normally would acquire during four years of college basketball. Still Darryl says if he had to make the choice again, he'd go the same way.

''I was an 18-year-old kid who didn't have nothin', whose family needed money , and who wasn't into the college thing anyway,'' Dawkins said. ''I figured by starting early I was putting four years on the beginning of my pro career that might not be there at the end. I didn't want to risk getting hurt in college. I also figured that I could always go to school later if I changed my mind.''

The day I talked with Dawkins, I didn't have to deal with his usual stories about interplanetary funkmanship; the importance of having half a dozen nicknames; or wanting to become a vampire like George Hamilton. In fact, Darryl said he was down to just one exotic car - a 1978 Stutz Bearcat Blackhawk that he bought from former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.

''I ain't saying what I paid for that car because a car like that is worth whatever a man wants to give - like a Rolls would be,'' Dawkins explained. ''They don't make the Stutz no more and on mine all the chrome pieces on the outside of the body are 24-karat gold plated.''

However, Darryl did have the car's leather seats replaced, not because the leather was too ostentatious, but because he preferred the extra softness of velour!

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