Not many people make my hands look small. I am nearly 7 feet tall and am asked several times throughout the day to compare my hands to a child, a girl, or an emasculate man. Yet as Darryl Dawkins' hand formed a cocoon around mine, I suddenly didn't feel so big.
I had the pleasure of meeting Darryl on Thursday evening as he teamed up with Captain Morgan to host a party in Philadelphia. The party was a kick off to the summer with similar events taking place in New York City and Miami. Guests were treated to Captain Morgan's Long Island Iced Tea, along with other Captain beverages.
As part of the One Million Poses campaign, everyone in Philadelphia who uploads a picture of themselves doing the Captain's pose to the Captain Morgan Facebook page, the Captain will donate $1 to the Urban Affairs Coalition of Philadelphia. Some guests indulged heavily in support of Darryl and the Captain, while others tastefully enjoyed the evening.
One of the inebriated came over while Darryl and I were engaged in a conversation about ghosts, (We both believe) and asked us to play one on one. He spent the remainder of the evening shouting "CHOCOLATE THUNDER!" Interesting guy...Darryl that is, not the intoxicated individual.
Earlier in the day I spoke with Dawkins about a wide range of topics including the future of the Sixers organization, the upcoming draft, Craig Sager's outfits, and his philosophies on coaching.
As we spoke he sounded less and less like the eccentric kid who arrived in the NBA straight out of Maynard High School in Orlando, Florida. He opened up about being drafted a year after the ABA snatched up Moses Malone in similar fashion. "Moses and I didn't know we could do it. Everyone was expecting me to be the next Wilt Chamberlain, but there was only one Wilt."
Dawkins' decision to go pro stemmed from his aggressive style of play. "I wanted to go pro. As reckless and dangerous as I played, I could have been injured in college." In a time when four years of college basketball were the standard, Dawkins became a pioneer for future generations of superstars.
Of course as a young player coming straight out of high school, Dawkins drove Sixers coaches Gene Shue and Billy Cunningham crazy. Which makes it all the more ironic that Dawkins himself is now the coach of Lehigh Carbon Community College.
"Guys will challenge you", Dawkins said of his players. Challenging coaches was something Dawkins excelled at during his 14 year NBA career. Former Nets coach Dave Wohl, who coached Dawkins during his time in New Jersey, was once quoted as saying, "Many of us will judge him solely on what he could have been. Too many will be blinded by the flashes of brilliance that never materialized into consistent greatness. There were times when he teased us with a hint of how he could dominate a game. And we went home in awe and yet sad because we knew of no spell to make it happen more frequently. But few players could make us feel that way even once."
Now Dawkins preaches the phrase, "Do as I say, not what I did," a life lesson for his new students of the game.
Dawkins, who still follows the Sixers, has a good role model in former teammate and now 76er head coach Doug Collins. "Doug is a good man. Let him put the pieces in place. He knows basketball." Dawkins has faith in Collins' ability to turn the Sixers into contenders once again.
With the NBA draft just under a month away Darryl and I discussed what the Sixers organization may do at 16. We both agreed that they need size, but that there may be a need to take the best player available. Whether they do this via trade or wait till 16, Dawkins emphasized the need to leave it in Collins' hands. "Back off coach a little bit, let him figure it out."
Darryl still has an appreciation and devotion to every team he called home during his NBA career and holds a special place in his heart for the Sixers. After all it was here in Philadelphia that he grew from a young kid, challenging coaches, and destroying backboards into the dedicated family man and coach he is now.
As I spoke to Darryl I could see how proud he was of his family. He described his children in detail using his bright blue suit clad body as a gauge of their height. We discussed who he felt was a better dresser, he or Craig Sager. Dawkins told me it was close and that, "It is all about imagination."
As I downed the last of my Captain Morgan Long Island Iced Tea and again shook Darryl's enormous hand, I walked into the elevator and whispered to my wife, "What an interesting guy." My wife then responded, "He is so down to earth." I began to reflect on that statement. He really was down to earth...A far cry from the man who used to spend his off seasons on planet Lovetron.