Darryl Dawkins, whose board-shattering dunks earned him the moniker "Chocolate Thunder" and helped pave the way for breakaway rims, has died. He was 58.
The Lehigh County, Pennsylvania coroner's office said Dawkins died Thursday morning at a hospital. Later Thursday, Dawkins' family said a heart attack was the cause of death. Officials said an autopsy was scheduled for Friday.
"Darryl touched the hearts and spirits of so many with his big smile and personality, ferocious dunks, but more than anything, his huge, loving heart," his family said in a statement. "His family, wife Janice, children Dara, Tabitha, Nicholas and Alexis, along with countless family, friends, and fans, all mourn his loss. More than anything Darryl accomplished in his basketball career as the inimitable 'Chocolate Thunder,' he was most proud of his role and responsibility as a husband and father."
Dawkins spent parts of 14 seasons in the NBA with Philadelphia, New Jersey, Utah and Detroit. He averaged 12 points and 6.1 rebounds in 726 career regular-season games.
"A great man, entertainer, athlete and ferocious dunker," former NBA guard Kevin Johnson wrote on Twitter. "He will be missed but not forgotten."
He was selected No. 5 in the 1975 NBA draft by the 76ers. His "Chocolate Thunder" nickname, he often said, was given to him by legendary singer Stevie Wonder — who is blind.
"People don't want to believe it. ... A guy who never saw me gave me the name Chocolate Thunder," Dawkins said in a 2012 interview.
Tributes poured in quickly from across the league, including from the 76ers.
"Simply put, Darryl Dawkins was beloved-by his family, friends, former teammates and his fans all over the globe," 76ers CEO Scott O'Neil said. "His endearing charm, infectious smile and unparalleled sense of humor will be sorely missed. 'Chocolate Thunder' will always have a special place in our hearts. His family is in our thoughts and prayers."
Dawkins was as revered off the court as he was on it. He remained enormously popular after his playing days were done, even during his stint as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters. He would name his dunks — the "look out below," the "yo-mama" and the "rim wrecker" among them — and often boasted that he hailed from the "Planet Lovetron."
Injuries plagued him late in his NBA career, and he went overseas for several more years to play primarily in the Italian league.
"You were one of my favorite players of all time," Houston center Dwight Howard posted Thursday on Instagram under a photo of Dawkins dunking in a game for the 76ers. "You were very inspirational to a lot of young players. Thank u for the long talks and great memories. I can't believe that you're gone. But you are in a better place. You were the originator of the dunk."