In the last few weeks, the NBA lost two major icons. Darryl Dawkins a.k.a. “Chocolate Thunder” passed away a couple of weeks ago on August 27 at the age of 58. Last Sunday, Moses Malone passed away in his sleep at the age of 60.
The similarities between the two go further than the position they shared in the post throughout their careers.
Both men started their careers coming out of high school long before the Kevin Garnetts and Kobe Bryants of the world came along and made it popular. Dawkins was drafted No. 5 by the Philadelphia 76ers back in 1975. Malone went straight to the ABA out of high school going to the Utah Stars. These two were among the first to ever go pro out of high school.
Both men played a significant part in the 76ers making NBA Finals runs in the late 70’s through the early 80’s.
Malone and Dawkins had different personalities when it came to the game of basketball. Moses Malone brought his hard hat and lunch pail to work to get it done. Dawkins was famous for being one of the most colorful characters in NBA history.
What many NBA fans probably don’t remember is that these two men were a part of one of the greatest playoff upsets in NBA history.
By the time Moses Malone came to Philadelphia to help “Doctor J” Julius Erving get the Sixers over the hump and win the NBA title in 1983 with Malone’s famous “Fo! Fo! Fo!” prediction, Dawkins was playing for the New Jersey Nets. Philadelphia wanted to shake up the frontline after advancing deep into the playoffs for years only to lose. Darryl Dawkins was traded to the Nets for a first round pick. Then the Sixers traded Caldwell Jones to the Houston Rockets for Moses Malone.
During the 1983-84 campaign, Dawkins had the best season statistically of his career, averaging 16.8 points per game. That was also Dawkins’s last durable season of his career. Dawkins also had a career high in total fouls that year. If he didn’t set a record of 386 fouls, Dawkins probably would have easily averaged 20 points for the season. Meanwhile, it was widely believed that the Sixers would be the first team to defend it’s title since the Boston Celtics in the Bill Russell era in 1969. After embarrassing the Eastern Conference the year before and sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0 to win the NBA title, The New Jersey Nets were an afterthought.
Moses Malone led the league in rebounding in 1984 with 13.4 per game. However, he had ankle injuries that kept him off the floor at times during the season. One of those games was the All-Star game.
When playoff time came around, first year Nets head coach Stan Albeck channeled his Moses Malone and had his own prediction. He promised a playoff victory to Nets fans over the defending World Champions. The same team that rolled to the title last year with a 12-1 record. Couple that with the fact that the franchise had NEVER won a playoff game in its previous seven seasons in the NBA, this could never happen right?
Well, to quote ESPN’s Chris Berman, that’s why they play the games.
The New Jersey Nets, led by Darryl Dawkins, shocked Philadelphia - ending their championship run in five games in the first round of the 1984 playoffs. What makes it more unbelievable is that the Nets took the series in the deciding Game 5 on the road. The Nets won by an average of 10 points through the series.
Darryl Dawkins had a great playoff run that year. Dawkins averaged 18 points, six rebounds, one assist and one block. He helped lead a team effort that included Buck Williams, Albert King, Micheal Ray Richardson and Otis Birdsong that for one year made fans forget the “Curse of Doctor J.”
Moses Malone averaged 21.4 points and 13.8 rebounds in the series but it was not enough. After the 1985-86 season, Malone suffered the same fate as Dawkins prior to his arrival. He was traded to the Washington Bullets.
The NBA will be a little more empty this season and beyond after the loss of these two great men in the hierarchy of NBA lore.