Sports Figures and Race: Overcoming Obstacles

Review by Joe Rosenberg

Chocolate Thunder: The Uncensored Life and Time of Darrel Dawkins
by Darrel Dawkins and Charley Rosen
Sport Classic Books, 2003

Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball
by Scott Simon
John Wiley & Son, 2002

I don’t know if Jack Roosevelt Robinson anticipated the emergence of an athlete as outspoken, humorous and truthful as basketballer Darryl Dawkins, but I believe he would be glad that the high school phenom from Florida was able to be his outrageous self as a player and now a minor league coach.

Like Babe Ruth, another outsized force of nature, Dawkins’ blithe spirit is keeping him from a major job in the NBA or college, despite his superior knowledge of basketball. And like Ruth, “Double D” had gargantuan appetites for women, food and booze. In his tell-all book, Dawkins portrays the NBA as a progressive organization still dealing with the consequences of integration. The bottom line is that a “company man,” black or white, is still the preferred choice for coaching management and lesser player. There is nothing new in Dawkins 228-page book, but there’s a lot of frank peeks behind the scenes.

Simon’s tribute to Robinson takes us through Robinson’s rookie year with the Dodgers in 168 pages. Simon shares my previously expressed admiration for Robinson and what he and Branch Rickey did for this nation. If you wanted to read a contemporary essay on this avatar of civil rights, warts and all, this is the best place to start.

Both Dawkins and Robinson share something in common—they are and were serious “race” men, with fierce competitive spirits. I kind of think Jackie, having had a son who beat drug addiction, would have embraced Dawkins like an errant son. I can see the old Dodger cheering Dawkins on when, he is finally on the NBA sideline, at last.

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This story was published on July 12, 2003.