In sports, because of the evolution of the games and rules and the athletes themselves, the records and stats fans hold in such high regard are never really, truly unbreakable. But basketball backboards really are. And we have Darryl Dawkins to thank for that.
Dawkins, who died of a heart attack this week at the too-young age of 58, was drafted straight out of an Orlando high school in 1975 and he owned one of the most colorful personalities in NBA history. He claimed to be from the planet Lovetron, he gave names to his most ferocious dunks the way people name their children, and Stevie Wonder nicknamed him "Chocolate Thunder" for the force with which he played the game.
But above all that, the 6-foot-11 Dawkins, one of the game's all-time great dunkers, is mostly known for throwing it down with enough force to destroy backboards.
Kind of like how Gordie Howe only scored one Gordie Howe Hat Trick — one goal, one assist, and one fight in a game — Dawkins was forever linked to broken baskets even though he only did it twice, both late in 1979. The first time he shattered the glass in Kansas City was by accident, he said. The second time, at the Spectrum in Philly, was intentional.
"All the fans were hollering, 'You've got to do one for the home crowd,' so I went ahead and brought it down. Everybody was in awe," Dawkins told the New York Times more than a decade ago. "Fans were running out grabbing the glass. People's hands wer bleeding. I felt like I was doing something no other human could do."
"Everybody says a dunk is only two points, but it gets your team hyped, gets the crowd all excited and takes the starch out of other teams, especially when you dunk on somebody," he said. "And I always dunked on somebody."
After destroying the second basket, Dawkins was called to the commissioner's office and was told if he did it again, it would cost him $5,000. He never broke another backboard, but his massive dunks led to the NBA engineering tougher backboards and breakaway rims to prevent fellow players from destroying the equipment.
But even with advanced technology, some college and pro dunkers still managed to shatter the glass in subsequent years.
In 1985, Michael Jordan tore down a hoop in an exhibition game in Europe.
Three years later, the University of Pittsburgh's Jerome Lane brought one down in a game with one of the most ferocious dunks in NCAA history.
College rims actually took more of a beating than NBA baskets in the 90s. At the 1995 Final Four during a practice at the Kingdome in Seattle, Oklahoma State center Bryant "Big Country" Reeves broke the backboard on an uncontested reverse jam in practice. Teammates were pulling bits of glass out of his neck afterward.
The next year, in the second round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament, Texas Tech's Darvin Ham went over two UNC players, including future NBA star Antawn Jamison, and broke the glass.
And Michigan's Robert "Tractor" Traylor ripped the rim out of the glass the following season.
For more than a decade after Dawkins ripped those two rims down, he was the NBA player most identified with breaking backboards. But in 1992, that all changed when Shaquille O'Neal was drafted No. 1 out of LSU. But instead of shattering the glass, the big center tore off the backboard in New Jersey, and snapped the support beam in Phoenix.
"Darryl Dawkins is the father of power dunkers," Shaq once said. "I'm just one of his sons. Probably his best son, matter of fact."
And a third came down that year during a memorable appearance on NBA Inside Stuff when he took host Ahmad Rashad to the hole.
Since then, rims have been relatively safe. In 2000, Oklahoma State's Jason Keep shattered the backboard in a game against Arkansas-Little Rock.
Some records in sports are considered unbreakable, and so are NBA baskets. Thanks to power dunkers like Dawkins and Shaq, the league improved the construction of the backboards and they can now withstand immense loads of force generated by any human.
The only way they're coming down now is if you drop a piano on the rim and even that has proven it cannot shatter the glass. Appropriately then, Chocolate Thunder's achievements will never be matched.
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