March 27, 2014
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On November 13th, 1979, the Sixers took on the Kansas City Kings at Municipal Stadium in KC. The Sixers were 12-3, on their way to an NBA Finals appearance against the LA Lakers. The Kings, led by the diminutive but explosive backcourt of Otis Birdson and Phil Ford, had stumbled out the gate to start the season, but would eventually right the ship and make the playoffs.
But context isn’t really necessary to understand what happened on that November in Kansas City. 38 seconds into the 3rd quarter, Daryl Dawkins took a pass from Maurice Cheeks on the low box, spun to his left as he took a single dribble, then took off into the sky with no one to obstruct his path. He put his full power into the slam, and the strength of the 6’11”, 250 pound 21-year old was more than the glass backboard could handle. As he slammed the ball home, the glass shattered as if he had hit it with a sledgehammer, and large shards of glass began to rain down on the court. Kings forward Bill Robinzine memorably covered his face with his hands and took off running. Dawkins nonchalantly ducked his head and walked out of bounds slowly.
Dawkins was known for being an eccentric and for naming his dunks (previous examples included the In-Your-Face Disgrace and the Spine Chiller Supreme). He knew he needed a special name for this one. A week later, he immortalized it as the The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam-Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam.
23 days later, after Philly fans kept telling him they wanted to see him do the same at home, he let them enjoy the fun, throwing down another backboard breaker at the Spectrum against the Spurs. That one simply ripped the rim out of the glass, which stayed intact but looked like a cannonball had ripped through it. After that one, he said “I didn’t mean to destroy it. It was the power, the Chocolate Thunder. I could feel it surging through my body, fighting to get out. I had no control over it.”
So where did he come up with the term “Chocolate Thunder”? In a 2011 interview with DIME Magazine, he acknowledged that he got the nickname from none other than Stevie Wonder:
Dime: How did the nickname Chocolate Thunder originate?
DD: Stevie Wonder used to come the ball games and they would have a guy sitting with him. And the guy would be holding on to his arm, telling him what’s going on, and he would say, “Hey, the big chocolate guy just put down a thunder dunk. The chocolate guy with another monster dunk.” And Stevie Wonder actually gave me the nickname Chocolate Thunder. So a guy who never saw me can give me that name. I think I can wear that well.
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