NBA: Former 76ers basketball star Darryl Dawkins dies

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - Former National Basketball Association star Darryl Dawkins, known as "Chocolate Thunder" for his powerful dunks and flamboyant personality, died on Thursday of a heart attack, his family said. He was 58.

An explosive centre whose dunks shattered two glass backboards in 1979, Dawkins got his nickname from musical great Stevie Wonder.

In a 14-season NBA career he averaged 12 points, 6.1 assists and 1.4 blocks per game, statistics that were dwarfed by an outsized personality.

"Darryl touched the hearts and spirits of so many with his big smile and personality, ferocious dunks, but more than anything, his huge, loving heart," the family said in a statement.

Always a fan favourite, Dawkins gave names to his dunks, such as "Dunk You Very Much," "Yo Mama," "Spine Chiller Supreme" and "In Your Face Disgrace."

Thanks to his high-flying game and his size and strength, the NBA was forced to adopt breakaway rims and impose fines and suspensions for breaking backboards during games.

In 1975, the 6-foot-11, 255-pound Dawkins became the first player taken directly from high school in the first round of the NBA draft.

A year earlier, Moses Malone went to the rival American Basketball Association after being drafted out of high school by the Utah Stars. The Philadelphia 76ers selected Dawkins with the fifth overall pick and he went on to play with the team for seven seasons before moving to the New Jersey Nets for five years.

He played four games for the Utah Jazz in 1987-88 before ending his NBA career with the Detroit Pistons in the 1988-89 season.

"We've lost a dear friend and an iconic figure, both on and off the court," 76ers chief executive Scott O'Neil said. "We remember fondly not only his thunderous dunks, but more importantly his powerful presence and personality.

"His endearing charm, infectious smile and unparalleled sense of humour will be sorely missed. 'Chocolate Thunder' will always have a special place in our hearts."

Dawkins averaged in double figures in points nine times in his career but never lived up to his massive expectations. Dawkins used to joke that he was an alien from the planet "Lovetron" who spent the off-season practicing "interplanetary funkmanship."

After leaving the NBA in 1989, he played two seasons in Italy and then with the Harlem Globetrotters.

After several coaching stints, he retired from basketball in 2000. But he remained visible at events like the NBA's All-Star Weekend, where he served as a judge of this year's Slam Dunk contest.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Dawkins "played the game with passion, integrity and joy, never forgetting how great an influence he had on his legions of fans, young and old."