Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book review: Chocolate Thunder, by Darryl Dawkins and Charley Rosen

A re-post from our affiliate Book Review site, Books with Balls.  

Darryl Dawkins is nothing if not an entertainer.  The names he gave his dunks were awesome, his proclamations about coming from the planet Lovetron were - and still are - amazing, and he was an effective NBA center for a decade before succumbing to injury.  He broke two plexiglass backboards during his days in the League and another one when playing for Torino of the Italian League - dude was a beast.

His book, penned alongside experienced basketball ghost-writer and free spirit Charley Rosen, is therefore a very entertaining read.  In fact, it's one of the books I've most enjoyed going back to pick up in recent times.  It's lightweight, honest, good for a chuckle and well worth a read.

At the same stage, it's also hardly a work which will truly describe the NBA's Dark Times to younger generations with the appropriate reality.  While it ploughs head-on into drug use - especially the casual stuff of Dawkins and the sadness of teammate Micheal Ray Richardson's addiction - it also presents most authority figures as broken men trying to compensate for a lack of control. 

In fact in places, it appears as if Dawkins - always the most likeable of souls - is simply unencumbered with an accurate version of reality.  The rate at which he bitches about referees and - without the same malice - most of his NBA coaches enlightens the reader as to why he wasn't the All-World player his talent said he should have been.  While refs did perhaps victimise DD (kiiiiind of), he was a notoriously bad defender and bought up-fakes like they were Internet futures in 1996.

courtesy: sportclassicbooks.com
We've been writing at Books with Balls for a while.  Chocolate Thunder is also the first book I've ever read where I've bookmarked certain pages for either being so deluded they're worth mentioning in and of themselves.  Examples?  How about when he suggests Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry is so bad "he must have a photo of an NBA GM f***ing a goat or something"(pg 135).  Or when he says he "practically won Game 5 [of the 1980 NBA Finals] on my own".  In reality, Kareem led the Lakers to a huge win after really badly spraining an ankle and Magic Johnson jumped center in the decisive Game 6.  Maybe that's what he meant by "practically".

Some inaccuracies, like "Fast" Eddie Johnson being dead, or Micheal Ray Richardson embarrassing white Point guards like Mark Price (whose NBA career only barely overlapped "Sugar's") can be put down to poor editing.  Others can only be thought of as fallacies brought about by a combination of ego and a grasp on reality which perhaps occasionally slips, unhelped by the cocaine he freely admits to taking during his playing days.

Despite the obvious ego, there's a real sense that Darryl Dawkins loves life, no matter how hard it has occasionally gotten for him.  In fact, he comes off as a really admirable guy, which in itself is testament to his likeability.  For his words to burst off the page as they do, the reader is left not only with a sense of DD's conviction, but also of his irrepressible joy.  Naming dunks, sleeping with maybe 1000 women and enjoying coaching as much as he does are all signs of la joie de vivre.  And Chocolate Thunder's got that in spades.

Darryl Dawkins is a fascinating man and in some ways it's a pity he's chosen to deliver such a lightweight memoir.  In other ways, however, apart from his physical size, Dawkins is a man driven by levity.  That in itself makes this book about a "coodabeen" well worth the 220-page read.  Recommended, but only if your knowledge of basketball history doesn't object to occasional inaccuracies.  Three stars.

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