Chocolate Thunder Gives Back (With President Obama)

On December 7, 2009, in Articles, Basketball, by Baller-in-Chief

Former NBA star Darryl Dawkins is the basketball coach at Lehigh Carbon Community College, where President Obama made an appearance last week.

(From Bill White for The Morning Call)

After basketball fan Obama explained that he had been a fan of Dawkins in his Philadelphia 76ers days, Dawkins encouraged the president to use him in programs to work with young people, just as he is here in the Lehigh Valley at LCCC and elsewhere.

Dawk2

Since I correctly figured The Morning Call would carry extensive coverage of President Obama’s remarks at Lehigh Carbon Community College and elsewhere around the Lehigh Valley last Friday, I focused part of my column the next day on former NBA star Darryl Dawkins, who is LCCC’s basketball coach and attracted enormous attention before and after Obama’s talk.(For one reason why, check the end of this posting for video of Dawkins’ Top 10 plays, including some backboard-shattering dunks.)

The president himself even worked his way over to Dawkins to shake his hand and exclaim, “Chocolate Thunder!”

Of course, anyone would return the president’s enthusiasm. What impressed me was the warmth with which Dawkins handled the attention he was receiving from everyone else. He must have posed for a hundred photos, always with a welcoming smile.

LCCC athletic director Jocelyn Beck told me that’s typical of the man.

“You can have someone with Darryl Dawkins’ stature and still really not make people feel comfortable,” she said. “You sign an autograph and they’re gone. When he signs an autograph, he makes you feel very, very special. He does that with every person.”

She gave an example. “He was here for Career Day, and he must have signed a hundred little basketballs. Each person who came up, he made them feel they had his attention; made them feel they were important.

“That makes him a very special man.”

The Obama-Dawkins handshake included an exchange beyond the “Chocolate Thunder!” greeting. I asked Dawkins afterward: What did they talk about?

After basketball fan Obama explained that he had been a fan of Dawkins in his Philadelphia 76ers days, Dawkins encouraged the president to use him in programs to work with young people, just as he is here in the Lehigh Valley at LCCC and elsewhere.

That was very much in character for Double D, as he also was known in his backboard-shattering days. Dawkins said people ask him all the time what he’s doing at LCCC, given his high-profile background. “My answer to them,” he said, “is that I’ve got three kids coming up through the Parkland School District. I don’t believe you can live in a community and have kids in the school system and not get involved in some way.”

His involvement with his players goes beyond just winning basketball games, although he certainly would like to do that.

He said, “I always teach the kids if you make this team and you play on this team, you’re going to be asked to do things you probably never have done, going to convalescent homes, going to soup kitchens. This isn’t just basketball, this is about life.” He wants them to learn to give back to their community.

He explains to young people that first impressions are important, and that when your hat is on sideways and your pants are hanging to your knees, you’re not likely to succeed with the job interview. A look that’s fine for hanging around the neighborhood may not be appropriate at school or on the job. “I’m trying to help change the whole outlook on that.”

Likewise, he encourages players to support other teams at the school. Beck told me it started even before basketball practice began, when the players began attending soccer and volleyball games, and she said it has helped build a strong bond with the girls basketball team, which supports the boys in the same way.

She talked about all the ways he’s helping them learn to conduct themselves in a way that’s a credit to the school and to themselves, and she said he’s been tough about making them toe the line.

“What I like most about him,” she concluded, “is that basketball is not the most important thing to him right now.”

Clearly, other coaches and teachers try to deliver similar messages, and many of them succeed. What’s special about someone like Darryl Dawkins is that these messages carry extra weight when they’re coming from someone who is as familiar to the president of the United States as he is to the kids at school.

“You and I both know we don’t take these coaching jobs to get rich,” he said. “But you can help. You can help. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Leave a Reply