Darryl Dawkins

August 29, 2015

DawkinsIn memory of Darryl Dawkins

In 1979, the world was divided thusly:

  1. Those who could graze the bottom of the net.
  2. Those who could grab the net.
  3. Those who could touch the rim.
  4. Those who could grab the rim.
  5. Those who could dunk through the rim relatively small round objects such as a tennis ball or a volleyball.
  6. Those who could dunk.
  7. Darryl Dawkins.

I was eleven at that time, and this hierarchy coursed from my feet to my fingertips with wonder and need. I was in the first group, occasionally, sometimes able with all my might to jump and just barely feel the soft, puffy threading of the net hanging from one of the hoops in the junior high gym in Randolph, Vermont. I started playing basketball that year for a seventh grade team that would lose every one of its games, and so it was the year when I began to identity myself with the bottom of hierarchies. Accompanying that identification was an intensification of a fantasy life built on various notions of power and flight.

That hierarchy gave way over the years to other, more nebulous ensnarements. I never did get to the sixth level. I got close. Once I even sort of pushed one through on an outdoor rim, but because I was never able to duplicate the feat anywhere else I’ve come to believe that the rim was slightly lower than regulation, or that I was dreaming.

Dreams come and go. I’m pushing fifty now, an age when it’s not really possible to envision life as a rising. But life will always be astounding. Think of barely being able to touch the bottom of the net and then discovering that elsewhere in the world someone was able to leap up and dunk with such force that the whole backboard shattered to pieces. The counterpoint to the feeling of losing isn’t winning, exactly. It’s imagining what Darryl Dawkins could do.


  1. A joy to watch for sure, but, of course, “big” guys are supposed to be able to dunk. Spud Webb made all of us taller than 5’7″ feel like real losers.

  2. Yeah, thanks a lot, Spud.

  3. Prefacing this with me height: I’m 5’9″. And a half. Ish. As a kid, I remember my dad telling me he could dunk “in high school.” That sounded odd: you can reach a level in life and then UNreach it? Why couldn’t dad still dunk? It’s not like he was in a wheelchair… Anyway, I longed to be able to dunk. When I was about 15, my friends and I realized that if we swung the elementary school’s L-shaped (already sub-10-foot) basketball hoop over, so that it was above the sidewalk instead of the parking lot, we’d gain the additional height needed to JAM. Which we did, often and with authority. We did it so much we required Band-Aids on all of out fingers, eventually switching to batting gloves. As I continued to grow, I became able to dunk with the rim in its normal position over the parking lot. But we all knew we this hoop wasn’t regulation. Occasionally we’d play behind the rural fire station, and it had, we assumed, a 10-footer. (One time we found some skin mags in the street and stashed them in the stone wall by the base of this hoop–when we came back for them, they were gone. You’re welcome, pre-Internet-porn southwest Connecticut firemen.) It was on this hoop where we tried and tried to get up and throw it through. I’m surprised I don’t remember the exact date, but one day we were screwing around with a basketball and, for some reason, a peegee. (Those plastic golf balls–we would have fun putting the peegee on top of the basketball, dropping it to the ground, and watching as the smaller ball would fly back up in the air. Try it! But I digress again….) At one point I took that peegee in my first two fingers, ran up, set both feet, and sprung upwards. Before I knew it I was really doing it–dunking–grabbing onto the rim with just the top segments of those two fingers and hanging on, swinging from the rim, making sure to stay up there not only to savor my first-ever dunk, but to be positive that my buddy was seeing this, all of it punctuated by an admittedly predictable but completely organic primal scream. Granted, it wasn’t a full-size ball, and nobody ever knows the true height of a playground rim, let alone a firehouse one, but it was my dunk, and would prove to be the peak of my dunking career. I’ll take it. –Jere aka Vanilla Thunder

  4. Damn, a typo in line one. Either that or I’m simply Irish. Me height is foive noine, lad.

  5. Thanks for the great story, laddie.

  6. Anyone ever dunk (or in my case, try) a basketball (on a 10-foot hoop) with a volleyball. That was big when I was playing a lot of basketball (almost everyday after school, regardless of the weather) back in the day. If you had big hands, it was easier to palm it and “throw it down” – I could do the former but couldn’t master the latter (see White Man’s Disease).

  7. 0. Not even able to graze the netting.
    -100. Not even trying.

  8. Saw your blog on @Midnight on Comedy Central the other night (for Dick Pole). Fun surprise to see it there.

  9. Cool! What night was that? I think full episodes of that show are on Comedy Central, so I’ll check it out. That Pole/LaCock post, which I wrote in about ten minutes, is turning out to be my “American Pie.”

  10. Pretty sure it was October 1

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