The owner of the Winnipeg Cyclone is remembering Darryl Dawkins, who coached the professional basketball squad for part of its brief tenure in the city, as a "players' coach" who set an example for the team.

Dawkins, a former NBA star also known for his backboard-shattering dunks, died on Thursday. He was 58 years old.

"Very, very sad. He was quite a guy, a real personality and oh, just a larger than life person, so the fact that this has happened is really quite something for me," Earl Barish, who owned the Cyclone, told CBC's Information Radio on Friday.

'He was a players' coach. What was important was the team and to set an example for the team.' - Earl Barish on Darryl Dawkins

The Lehigh County, Pennsylvania coroner's office said Dawkins died Thursday morning at a hospital. No cause of death was immediately announced and an autopsy was scheduled for Friday.

Dawkins spent parts of 14 seasons in the NBA with Philadelphia, New Jersey, Utah and Detroit. He averaged 12 points and 6.1 rebounds in 726 career regular-season games. He was selected No. 5 in the 1975 NBA draft by the 76ers.

Known to basketball fans as the "Chocolate Thunder," his dunks helped pave the way for breakaway rims.

Barish said Dawkins was instrumental in changing the game of basketball when he was in the NBA with his aggressive play.

"In essence, it was a non-contact game, but at centre he played an inside game that was rough and tough and changed the whole thing," Barish said.

Coached from 1998 to 2000

In Winnipeg, Dawkins was known for coaching the Cyclone for two seasons from 1998 to 2000.

The team competed in the International Basketball Association from 1995 until 2001, playing its home games at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.

"He was a players' coach. What was important was the team and to set an example for the team," Barish said.

"He wanted to make sure that his players were equipped to make it to the NBA."

Obit Dawkins Basketball

Philadelphia 76ers' Darryl Dawkins, seen in this April 1980 file photo, dunks in an NBA playoff game against the Atlanta Hawks in Philadelphia. Dawkins, who also coached the Winnipeg Cyclone basketball team, died at the age of 58 on Thursday. (Rusty Kennedy/Associated Press)

Dawkins also took part in community events around Winnipeg, including a basketball camp for children that was hosted by the team.

Barish said he'll always remember Dawkins wearing wildly coloured suits and talking about his dunks — each one bearing its own name.

"I will always remember Darryl walking into the convention centre, which is where we played our games, in one of his suits. I mean, at 6'10", 285 pounds, he was a pretty awesome figure, but he liked very odd-coloured suits," Barish said.

"They were very ostentatious and a man that size walking into a room, he actually took over the whole room," he added. "Just seeing him and that big smile on his face walking in to do his job as coach of the team, that's certainly one of the things [that made] sort of the first impact when I think about him."

As for the dunks, "Every single dunk had a name, and it was just a pleasure after perhaps one or two chocolate daiquiris — which is what he liked to drink — and he would recite his dunks, and there were several," Barish recalled.

"It was really quite something to hear him do that."

Barish said he kept in touch with Dawkins over the years after the coach left Winnipeg.

Basketball Manitoba paid tribute to Dawkins in a tweet posted shortly after news of his death broke.

With files from The Associated Press and the CBC's Janice Moeller