Darryl Dawkins, whose ferocious style of dunking the basketball changed the rules of the game and paved the way for breakaway rims, has died at the age of 58.
Dawkins died of a heart attack Thursday morning at a Pennsylvania hospital, his family said in a statement.
Known as "Chocolate Thunder" and celebrated for shattering backboards with his aggressive dunks, the 6-foot-11 Dawkins spent parts of 14 seasons in the NBA with Philadelphia, New Jersey, Utah and Detroit. He averaged 12 points and 6.1 rebounds in 726 career regular-season games.
Born Jan. 7, 1957, in Orlando, Fla., Dawkins was drafted straight out of high school, selected with the fifth pick in 1975 by the 76ers.
"More than anything Darryl accomplished in his basketball career as the inimitable ‘Chocolate Thunder,’ he was most proud of his role and responsibility as a husband and father," his family said in a statement released by the NBA.
"A great man, entertainer, athlete and ferocious dunker," former NBA guard Kevin Johnson wrote on Twitter in tribute to Dawkins. "He will be missed but not forgotten."
Dawkins was as revered off the court as he was on it. He remained enormously popular after his playing days were done, even during his stint as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
He would name his dunks — the "look out below," the "yo-mama" and the "rim wrecker" among them — and often boasted that he hailed from the "Planet Lovetron."
When he twice shattered the backboard -- delaying the game as officials cleaned up the mess -- the NBA ruled that breaking a backboard would be considered an offense that could result in a fine or even a suspension. The league later shifted to breakaway rims.
Injuries plagued Dawkins late in his NBA career, and he went overseas for several more years to play, primarily in the Italian league.
''You were one of my favorite players of all time," Houston center Dwight Howard posted Thursday on Instagram under a photo of Dawkins dunking in a game for the 76ers. "You were very inspirational to a lot of young players. Thank u for the long talks and great memories. I can't believe that you're gone. But you are in a better place. You were the originator of the dunk."
He is survived by his wife Janice and children Dara, Tabitha, Nicholas and Alexis.