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Darryl Dawkins, who passed away Thursday at age 58, was one of the original coaches and motivating forces behind the growth and development of Sports University/Team IZOD in Fairfield, N.J. He remained close to the team in recent years where he worked alongside longtime friend Ed Bright of North Caldwell, the general manager of the team. (photos courtesy of Team IZOD)

Noted girls volleyball coach Vanessa Whitney (right) enjoys her conversation with Darryl Dawkins at a November, 2014, Sports U/Team Izod team dinner.

Chocolate Thunder could always illicit a smile from those around him

Darryl Dawkins, the powerful speaker, delivers a message to youngsters at Phillip Van Heusen headquarters in Bridgewater as Sports U/Team Izod coach and president Brian Coleman along with General Manager Ed Bright listen in.

Dawkins Charm & Personality
Lit Up Room In Hoops Circles
By Steve Tober

The first person to go directly from high school to the NBA may not have lived up to his hype as a professional basketball player, but for whatever he may not have achieved during a lengthy 14-year career in the ultimate league for hoops talent, he more than made up for it with his presence, personality and persistence to make the life experience as bright for the people around him as he could humanly make possible.

Darryl Dawkins, who Grammy Award winning musician Stevie Wonder nicknamed “Chocolate Thunder,” displayed his enormous strength while breaking two backboards in a three week period during the 1979 NBA season with the Philadelphia 76ers; however that amazing power was more evident in his devotion to boosting the spirits and mentoring young basketball players, whether it were the Pennsylvania Valley Dawgs in the now defunct United States Basketball League, junior college kids at Lehigh Carbon Community College where he most recently coached, or locally here in Essex County, working alongside longtime friend Ed Bright of North Caldwell in helping to get the highly-successful Sports U/Team IZOD get off and running nearly a decade ago and then become as one of the nation’s more successful AAU hoops programs.

Chocolate Thunder, who had made his home the past few years in Whitehall Township, not far from Allentown, Pa., passed away on Thursday, Aug. 27, at the age of 58 from an apparent heart attack; however, even though the actual heart within his large 6-foot-11 body may no longer tick in a medical sense, it will remain an active presence in many a person’s heart and mind, especially those he was able to touch with his heartfelt spirit and endearing presence, even if it were for just a short time in their lives.

Take Nov. 25, 2014, the last time this sports columnist was in the same room with Darryl at the Meadowlands offices of Team IZOD where a get-together to commemorate the end of the 2014 spring-summer-fall AAU season saw players, coaches, families and friends of Sports U/Team IZOD come together to break bread and share stories while also handing out various awards to the youngsters from all the different age group teams.

There was Darryl, looking terrific having recently lost nearly 80 pounds on a healthy diet plus partaking in Zumba workouts. His infectious smile lit up the room as it always did, as he asked parents of Sports U/Team IZOD players to trust his friend Bright and the coaches in the program and continue their work in and out of the classroom.

Hearing Darryl one more time and –as it turned out – for the last time in person talk about the importance of treating people with respect and carrying oneself with dignity came across as totally genuine expressions of what have very possibly been products of his own lessons learned, maturing from a young and vivacious teenager looking to impact in the NBA in the mid-1970s to becoming a proud and dedicated family man, a father of four with wife Janice, and a man then nearing the end of his sixth decade knowing that he had made the most of his radiant personality and warm human touch.

He was an active missionary of spirit for “NBA Without Borders,” and traveled throughout the Far East and Middle East, including five trips to visit U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. Darryl was the ultimate ambassador, not only for the traveling diplomacy he may have performed for a professional basketball league, but also for raising the morale of all those around him.

After all, when it came to lighting up a room, whether it was at the former Sports U facility in Fairfield, N.J., or at any of the team banquets and get togethers for the AAU hoops program, there was no one as charming and enjoyable to just be around than Chocolate Thunder, who is probably more appropriately remembered as “Double D, The Gentle Giant.”

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister

There was no one more relaxing to be around at any event than Darryl Dawkins, who maintained a close relationship with Sports U/Team IZOD.

Darryl Dawkins listens intently as Sports U/Team Izod coach and President Brian Coleman addresses audience at get-together for the AAU hoops team.

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