February 12, 2016

Q&A with Darryl Dawkins

Darryl Dawkins was known as much for his colorful quotes as his thunderous dunks. In 1975, Dawkins became the first high school player to be drafted and play in the NBA when the Philadelphia 76ers plucked him with the fifth overall pick out of Orlando’s Maynard Evans High School. He played in the NBA for 14 seasons and in three NBA finals. While he had trouble living up to the hype of being drafted straight from high school, he still carved a distinguished career and averaged double figures in nine seasons. Dawkins died of a heart last August at the age of 58. The following is a transcript of an interview Dawkins conducted for ‘Boys Among Men,’ lightly edited for clarity.

What was the transition like being the first to be drafted from high school into the NBA?

Dawkins: Basketball is still basketball. And if you’re being drafted out of high school into the NBA, No. 1: people who normally don’t talk to you now all of a sudden talk to you. Girls who didn’t normally like you, all of a sudden like you. I was very fortunate because I came in with Harvey Catchings, Doug Collins, Freddie Carter … a bunch of good guys who, more or less, talked to me to say, “Hey, don’t go to that side of town. Do this, do that.” …The veterans try and pull all kinds of tricks on you. They pull your shorts and do this and do that, and once you learn those tricks and learn them fast, and start doing them to them, they start saying, “Hey man, you going to be fine.”

After all these years does it surprise you that you were able to make the transition?

Dawkins: Grew up on a dirt road, chicken coop, lived in a house that leaked when it rained. I look at it more as a blessing than anything else. Just a blessing. And when you treat your blessings right, they always come back to you.

How did you handle the newfound wealth?

Dawkins: Everybody – cousins I had never even known or seen – always has their hands out. You never see anybody with their hands together. And people show their true colors when money’s involved.

What was the deciding factor for you in making that decision to jump straight to the NBA?

Dawkins: My mother believed in me and said, “Boy, you can do this if you want to, but you got to put your head into it.” The money? Yeah, it was more money than I ever seen in my life. …That was a decision, and this was the hard part, if you say there’s a hard part. You go through another town. You check into a hotel. You’ve got a whole room to yourself. You can order room service. You call home at Thanksgiving and they say, “Jessie’s here making the string bean casserole.  Grandma made the sweet potato pie. Louis made the banana pudding.” And I say, “I don’t want to hear that, man. I’m on the road – I’m way out here in California somewhere.” That, probably, was the only hard part. But I knew how to cook when I was 14, so anything that was being made at home I could make for myself. But the hardest part is what are you doing during idle time? I started writing poetry. I stated cooking and tweaking recipes. I’ve always had a fetish for cars, and I did like women. So I occupied my time that way, besides playing basketball.

When did you start realizing NBA teams were paying attention to you in high school?

Dawkins: Somebody came in the door to the gym that you didn’t recognize, you knew he was there to see somebody. Now, [Philadelphia’s director of player personnel] Jack McMahon, the guy that came to scout me, was sitting up in the corner – big Irish guy with a parka on and skull cap. Now, we don’t have a winter in Florida, so he was like a sore thumb sitting over there. We said, “It’s a scout, man. I don’t know man, look what he got on. He’s got tweed pants on.” We don’t wear no tweed in Florida, man. It’s too hot. Santa Claus can’t even come down here, he’d pass out with all that leather on.

You were considered one of the game’s first entertainers. How did that originate?

Dawkins: My imagination’s never failed me. I’ve been witty with words. I always think of something crazy to say, but I entertain myself. And I entertain kids, and I bet I’ve seen more kids than players in the league right now because when you go somewhere, they don’t want to see you say, “Well, they played great basketball. We have a great team. We were fortunate and played better than they did” … You want to hear him say, “Yeah, I gave them 40 this week. I got 40 for him. I got 40 for your mother. You bring your sister and mother. They ‘aint gonna stop me. Come on.” I think that’s missing and it’s not a knock or beat up on people, it’s people wanting to be entertained. If you got the best players in the world, why not brag about your team? Brag – the thing that I see now, when we played stars guarded stars, I guarded Kareem or Magic guarded Doc or Doc guarded Bird. That’s just the way it was. Now, the stars don’t guard the stars. They take a guy off the bench tell him they’ve got to guard him so he can save his energy on offense. George Gervin guarded guys. It’s different. I think the NBA’s getting back to that now, or they’re trying to get back to it.