Goodbye, Darryl. Thanks for being you.

Darryl Dawkins died today, according to several media outlets.

We didn’t have a professional basketball team in Pittsburgh when I was in sixth grade. That’s when I made a free-throw in gym class to “win” a game, and was instantly obsessed with the sport. Back then, the only teams you got to see on television were the Lakers, Celtics, and Philadelphia 76ers. So I latched onto the 76ers beginning in the 1976-77 season. They went to the NBA Finals that year, losing to the Portland Trailblazers. But I had my team. And I’d remain a loyal fan for years.

Dawkins did the unheard of coming out of high school in Orlando; he gave up his right to a college education and entered the NBA draft. The Sixers took him as the 5th overall pick, and in that Playoff year of 1977, he made a name for himself. Not just by throwing down ridiculous dunks, but by squaring off against the league’s leading tough-guy, Maurice Lucas. That put him in the spotlight of one of my favorite Sports Illustrated articles of all time (I was addicted to that magazine in my younger years) as one of the NBA’s top “enforcers.”

That title would plague him for the rest of his career. A quick mouth and an often-short fuse would make him a target for officials. He got called for the most inane non-fouls because he was Darryl Dawkins. He’d get rung up for technicals just by the way he looked at referees. He also made a lot of silly mistakes, and some of those calls and fouls that hounded him were of his own doing, but he wasn’t treated fairly, either.

Note: I don’t remember where I read it; probably in Sports Illustrated. But I read his new head coach, when he was traded to the Nets from Philly, made two lengthy videotapes of Dawkins’ career: One he sent to the league that showed the stupid calls against him by referees who targeted him, and one he gave to Darryl, showing the bad decisions he was making on the court that weren’t helping his reputation or his performance. But I didn’t see him play post-Philadelphia enough to know if those tapes helped.

I saw Darryl Dawkins once in person. He was with the Utah Jazz in the pre-season, and they were playing an exhibition game against the Bulls in Pittsburgh. I had no intention of going (Michael Jordan? Yeah, he’s okay, but not worth parking downtown to see…) until I saw the Six O’clock news team interview Dawk before the game. I jumped in the car, parked downtown, and bought a walk-up ticket at the Civic Arena. Best money I’ve ever spent? Maybe.

Dawkins barely played. In the last minute of the game, he had two chances to throw down his signature dunks, but both times, he lost the handle on the ball. He clearly didn’t have much left. But he was still the most entertaining player in the arena that night. He sat on the end of the bench with Mel Turpin. Frank Layden, then the coach of the Jazz, and a noted character in his own right, would wander to the end of the bench, whisper something under his breath, and walk away. Dawkins and Turpin would be doubled over in laughter. I would have given anything to listen to those conversations.

As the game wound down and fans started to hit the exits, every one of them that walked behind the Jazz bench got a handshake form Darryl. Not begrudgingly. Not halfheartedly. But happily. With a smile. At least, that is, until security rushed over and roped off the bench. No sense in letting the people who get to see NBA players once a year get to interact with them. Oh well. I was too far away to get a handshake anyway.

Darryl Dawkins was 6’11”, 250-ish pounds who could run the floor and jump like a forward. Julius Erving once described seeing him as “watching a building jump into the air.” He was a man-child. My affection for him was replaced after his Sixer days by Charles Barkley, and I’ll always equate those two. My favorite 76ers.

Rest in peace, Darryl. I’ll miss you. Basketball will miss you too.





150 North Riverside Takes Center Stage

150 North Riverside

150 North Riverside

I Still love Aqua. I always will. But this building is fascinating to watch under construction. If you see her, tell her I’m sorry. (She won’t return my calls.) I’ll be back, but for now, I can’t walk away. Not all the way over to the New East Side, anyway.

I didn’t know anything about architecture and construction when I used to walk across the Lake Street bridge on a daily basis. I’d look down along the west river bank and wonder what the small oil derrick was doing in the lot next to the water. Soil sampling, I would find out later. Which would soon lead to some serious earth moving, and ultimately graduating to full-fledged major construction. And I would become obsessed.

150 North Riverside in Chicago is not your average skyscraper project. Maybe there wasn’t much fanfare getting things started; again, I didn’t know much about this city’s new buildings. This particular development got a huge shot the arm — and a hole in the hull — when crews loading mud and silt into a barge broke it in half and sunk it. Suddenly every media outlet in town headed to the Chicago River to see the latest saga in what had become a very bad year for Chicago barges. Citizens congregated on the Randolph and Lake Street bridges, discussing what had gone wrong and the best ways to mend the situation. And 150 North Riverside was officially on the map.

What happened next would be engineering magic. The muddy hole that additional, healthier barges hauled away gave way to steel and concrete and wood and cranes. Even cranes on barges. That didn’t sink. And the Clark Construction site that fascinated me because of a nautical mishap soon grabbed hold of my attention for a much more positive reason: that upside-down triangle of iron. That will soon support dozens of floors above. I haven’t taken photos of progress at 150 North Riverside every day, but I’ve come close to it. And I know this will one day be an amazing structure to behold. But right now, in its present state, I kinda wish it would stay unfinished for awhile. Like a child you’re not yet prepared to see grow up.

There’s still a long way to go for 150 North Riverside. The 1.2-million-square-foot, 53-story office tower, designed by Chicago firm Goettsch Partners, is expected to open in November of 2016, and already lists Hyatt Hotels and investment firm William Blair as future tenants. In the mean time, check out the website for more details and renderings. (Be sure to watch the video; this building and grounds will be spectacular.)