DOES SIZE MATTER?

Darryl Dawkins died last month at age 58. He’d debuted as a professional basketball player with the Philadelphia 76’ers in the late 1970’s. Darryl’s claim to fame concerned his ability to slam-dunk a basketball with sufficient force to explode the backboard. A cheery and smiling personality, his nickname was “Chocolate Thunder.”

My connection to Darryl Dawkins could not have been more tenuous. Yet, the basis for that connection proved hard to forget. During my senior year at Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, I worked part-time at the sports desk of the local newspaper, the Evening Sentinel, which everyone I knew called “The Senile.” (Cynicism was the norm in college, after all.)

I didn’t socialize much and didn’t mind spending Friday evenings alone in the newsroom, fielding telephone calls with results of local high school contests. On occasion, I attended games and wrote articles. Among the highlights were interviewing the stars of the Boiling Springs Bubblers softball team, Patsy Peach and April Showers. No, I didn’t make those names up.

Back to Darryl Dawkins: The sports photographer was named Tom. He was talented and, a recent Google search disclosed, destined to own his own studio and make a career of photojournalism. When I knew him, however, he was barely older than I and thrilled to have a press pass that allowed access to sporting events. “This is major!” he’d say, as he gathered his equipment and drove off in a rusted Toyota hatchback, as though he were a fireman who’d just heard an alarm.

In reality, the Senile didn’t confer access to “major” events, however enthusiastically Tom characterized them. Like me, he typically covered local high school sports or low-level college games such as the ones I played at Dickinson. But once, during the pre-season, the Philadelphia 76’ers played a “home game” at the Hershey Arena, just 20 minutes from Carlisle, and the local press credential conferred access.

Since our sports editor/reporter (one person filled both roles) didn’t want to cover “an exhibition game,” Tom volunteered not only to photograph the game from courtside, but also to try to conduct a post-game interview in the locker room. There, Tom witnessed Darryl Dawkins nude and reported (verbally, not in his article) that his “schlong” was the longest ever on a human being. Not prepared for such a sighting, and also not willing to risk being drowned in a whirlpool bath, Tom didn’t attempt to snap a picture.   But he obsessed for the rest of the year with obtaining a locker room pass to a regular-season game in Philadelphia in order to secretly capture this phenomenon.

To my knowledge (and I am NOT going to check with the Guinness people) the longest schlong is not an authenticated matter. That didn’t prevent Tom from bringing up the subject obsessively. His observation clouded every mention of Darryl Dawkins for me forevermore.

Though Tom did drive two hours to several 76’ers games with a credential that allowed courtside access, he never again gained access to the 76’ers’ locker room.  The NBA season ended in the spring of 1978 at the same time as I graduated and ended my career at the paper. The lesson I derived from this slice of life is, as follows: Some assertions can simply be trusted. Others warrant the phrase “Trust, but verify.” And some, like Tom’s contention about Darryl Dawkins, may best be forgotten, if possible.

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