NC State Selects First-Ever Hall of Fame Class | Complete Bios
Before the tale grows any taller, David Thompson wanted to set the record straight about his legendary leaping ability.
Yes, he could soar high enough to flick a quarter off the top of the backboard. No, he says he could not leave two dimes and a nickel in change as the myth suggest.
Making such a financial transaction at that altitude is about the only feat the 6-4 "Sky Walker" couldn't do on a basketball court.
Thompson was a two-time National Player of the Year at NC State and five-time All-Pro who scored 73 points in one NBA game. He possessed spectacular all-round skills and could take his performance above the rim a 44-inch vertical jump.
The younger generation didn't get to see him, but it can get a glimpse now on You Tube, which has drawn more than 695,000 hits on one video. Even now, at age 58, he can soar 34 inches off the floor and dunk.
After parachuting down from his lofty basketball career, Thompson landed where everyone expected -- in the Naismith Hall of Fame. And on October 5 he will be among State's first Athletics HOF honorees.
"It's a big honor to be in the initial (NCSU) class,'' said Thompson, a humble hero whose game and fame flourished with the Wolfpack in the 1970s.
Thompson, who lives in Charlotte with his wife, Cathy, still treasures State days and harbors many special basketball memories. Here are a few he mentioned:
* Super Bowl Sunday, 1973. The Wolfpack played Maryland in a nationally televised game featuring two top ranked teams.
Regional fans knew Thompson was something special, but that day the entire college basketball world found out. He scored 37 points, including the decisive basket on a follow shot, giving State a dramatic victory at College Park.
"Having the whole world watch, playing as well as I did, was a key to my making first team All-America,'' he said. "That game gave us a lot of confidence, led to our undefeated season (27-0)."
It was the "Circus Team" that included 5-7 "Midget" Monte Towe, 7-4 "Giant" Tommy Burleson, the high-wire, alley-ooping act of the 6-4 Thompson, Tim Stoddard and Moe Rivers.
* Fast forward to 1974. No. 1-ranked State and No. 4 Maryland squared off in what many regard as the best ACC game ever played.
In the conference tournament finals, when only the champion qualified for the NCAA playoffs, State rallied from a 15-point deficit for a 103-100 overtime triumph.
"It would have been a shame to lose that game and we very well could have,'' said Thompson, adding that Tommy Burleson's 38 points "bailed us out."
* The Fall.
It happened in the '74 East Regionals at Reynolds Coliseum.
Frustrated because a foul hadn't been called on his previous shot, an animated Thompson wanted to make a play at the defensive end. Going up high, he fell over teammate Phil Spence's shoulder and landed on his head.
The arena grew suddenly silent as Thompson lay on the floor. He was transported to a local hospital for treatment. Later, stitched and bandaged, he returned to the game and Reynolds rocked from a thunderous, heartfelt ovation.
The fans reaction and the team's reaction, Thompson has never forgotten. It was special, he said, because it showed people appreciated him as a person, not just as a basketball super star.
* A week later, the Pack was in Greensboro for an NCAA semifinals matchup against mighty UCLA, which had handed State its only loss earlier in the year in St. Louis.
"People were not sure I was okay,'` said Thompson, who turned prankster prior to the game. "When coach (Norm) Sloan was drawing plays, I rolled my head around, and he almost had a heart attack. (But) I was fine."
Thompson was better than fine. With State trailing by seven points in the second overtime, he rose to the occasion again, scoring four clutch points in the final minute to help seal an 80-77 win and end the seven-year championship reign of John Wooden's Bruins.
Thompson finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds and went high above the rim to block a Bill Walton shot, which more than 186,000 people have viewed on YouTube.
Two nights later, Thompson and the Pack beat Marquette to win the national title, which he calls his biggest basketball thrill.
"He stands above all others who ever played (at State) and is unparalleled in the history of the ACC," said teammate Monte Towe, now an assistant coach at Middle Tennessee State.
"I always tell people how humble David was and is. He just always went out to help the team and he made all of us better players and better people."
During that period dunking wasn't allowed by the NCAA. But Thompson still got in one memorable stuff at Reynolds his senior year and took a technical, which sent the Wolfpack fans into a howling frenzy.
In pickup games at Carmichael, Towe saw lots of those dunks. Thompson also shattered a few backboards - one at the Citadel during the summer -- and in the NBA.
"College basketball missed out on his dunking,'' Towe lamented, but noted how graceful Thompson was on Alley-Oop baskets.
Towe collected many assists by lobbing the ball skyward for Thompson to grab and cradle into the net.
"He had great hands," said Towe, not that "you could throw it anywhere in the gym" and Thompson would get it.
There was no 3-point shot during that era, either, but Thompson averaged 26.8 points in his three-season varsity career (freshman weren't eligible) and helped State beat North Carolina nine times in a row.
With exquisite skill, grace and humility, he endeared himself to Wolfpack and rival fans as well and inspired younger players. He was Michael Jordan's hero and the person Jordan chose to present him at Jordan's Naismith Hall of Fame Induction.
"David Thompson was a Michael Jordan before there was a Michael Jordan,'' Coach Larry Brown said in a 2009 Charlotte Observer column by Scott Fowler.
Bill Walton was another DT admirer and sang Happy Birthday to him this year on Thompson's answering machine.
Consider this. Since the Atlantic Coast Conference's inception in 1953, more than 2,500 players and dozens of All-Americans have competed in the league. If asked to vote on the best ACC player ever, chances are hoop historians would agree with Towe and pick Thompson.
Not only did Thompson enjoy those college days. So did his parents.
"My four years at State were happy times for them, coming to the games and the way they were treated,'' he said. "My dad was laid back and shy like me. But they even got him to wear a Super Man shirt."
PROS & CONS
Picked No. 1 overall in the '75 draft, Thompson chose to play for Denver of the ABA and lived up to his billing for several seasons.
He was a five-time All-Star (4 years in the NBA) and the only player ever to win MVP honors in both the ABA and NBA All-Star games.
For a while, Thompson was unstoppable. Like in 1978 against the Detroit Pistons, when he scored a career high 73 points by making 28 of his 38 field goal attempts and converting 17 of 20 free throws.
Eighteen other times he tallied 40 points or more. "Sky Walker's" game and salary were at another level. At one juncture he was the highest paid athlete in the world playing a team sport.
But in the early 1980's came a devastating descent. Substance abuse and injuries eroded his skills, short-circuited his career, and plagued him into retirement.
His material wealth diminished. His marriage broke up for a span. His life was in ruins.
While in the deepest darkness, Thompson, who had fallen away from his Christian upbringing, said he recommitted his life to Christ.
"It was the greatest, most important decision I've ever made,'' he said. "It turned my whole life around. The Lord restored my family, got my name back in good steed. I reconnected with my family (wife and 2 daughters) and friends. My kids have done really well and I was able to be in their lives."
Daughter Brook is a professor of psychology at Gardner-Webb. Erika works for U.S. Sports in Charlotte.
Since his spiritual rebirth, Thompson has been involved in ministry, sharing sharing his faith to multitudes of youth and adults.
"Im glad to have this platform, to impact kids and help them in making the right decisions,'' said Thompson, who a few years ago completed his degree in sociology from State.
While traveling to make speeches and caring for his wife, who has battled diabetes, Thompson stayed in close touch with NC State. He attends several Pack basketball and football games each season and people remember.
"The reception from fans has just been heart-warming,'' he said. "State has the greatest fans. They support you and that's what I appreciated."
On October 5, at a banquet in Reynolds Coliseum, the Wolfpack will again show their appreciation for a super star who hasn't been out run by fleeting fame.
By A.J. Carr, GoPack.com