On November 13, 1979, in the middle of a game at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Philadelphia 76ers center Darryl Dawkins leaps over Kansas City Kings forward Bill Robinzine and slam-dunks the basketball, shattering the fiberglass backboard. The result, according to people who were at the game, was a sound like a bomb going off in the middle of the court. Shards of glass were everywhere: They nicked Robinzine all over his legs and arms and gotten stuck in Dr. J’s Afro. “It wasn’t really a safe thing to do,” Dawkins chuckled later, “but it was a Darryl Dawkins thing to do.”
When the 6’10″, 260-pound Dawkins joined the 76ers in 1975, he became the first NBA player to be drafted right out of high school. He gave himself the nickname “Chocolate Thunder” and set about making himself the most entertaining player in the league. His slam-dunks were enormous crowd pleasers, and he named them all: the In-Your-Face Disgrace, the Look Out Below, the Turbo Sexophonic Delight, the Rim-Wrecker, the Go-Rilla, the Spine Chiller Supreme, the Cover Your Head, the Yo Mama and–his favorite–the Get-Out-of-the-Waying, Backboard-Swaying, Game-Delaying, If-You-Ain’t-Grooving-You-Best-Get-Moving Dunk. His Kansas City glass-breaker had a name befitting its magnitude: Dawkins called it the Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam Glass-Breaker-I-Am Jam.
A few weeks later Dawkins did it again, this time at the Philadelphia Spectrum. After that, NBA Commissioner Larry O’Brien called the young player into his office and made him a stern promise: Every time Dawkins broke a backboard, O’Brien said, he’d be fined $5,000 and suspended. (On the one hand, the spectacular dunks were bringing publicity and attention to the struggling NBA; on the other, they caused interminable game delays while janitors swept up the glass, and–of course–they were dangerous.) Soon, the league installed shatter-proof backboards with breakaway rims in every arena.
Dawkins’ glass-shattering monster dunks remain some of the most enduring images of a particularly flamboyant moment in the history of the NBA. He went on to play basketball in Italy–where he shattered several non-Dawkins-proofed backboards–and to coach the Pennsylvania ValleyDawgs, a team in the United States Basketball League. Bill Robinzine died by suicide in 1982, when he was 29 years old.