David O'Neil Thompson (born July 13, 1954) is an American retired professional basketball player. He played with the Denver Nuggets of both the American Basketball Association (ABA) and National Basketball Association (NBA), as well as the Seattle SuperSonics of the NBA. He was previously a star in college for North Carolina State, leading the Wolfpack to its first NCAA championship in 1974. Thompson is one of the six players to score 70 or more points in an NBA game. Thompson was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996.
Thompson (left) and Julius Erving vying for the basketball in 1976.
|Born||July 13, 1954|
Shelby, North Carolina
|Listed height||6 ft 4 in (1.93 m)|
|Listed weight||195 lb (88 kg)|
|High school||Crest (Shelby, North Carolina)|
|College||NC State (1972–1975)|
|NBA draft||1975 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1st overall|
|Selected by the Atlanta Hawks|
|Position||Shooting guard / Small forward|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career ABA and NBA statistics|
|Points||13,422 (22.1 ppg)|
|Rebounds||2,446 (4.1 rpg)|
|Assists||1,939 (3.3 apg)|
|Stats at Basketball-Reference.com|
|Basketball Hall of Fame as player|
|College Basketball Hall of Fame|
Inducted in 2006
Thompson attended Crest Senior High School and he played for the school's Varsity Basketball team for four years. He starred in the North Carolina Coaches Association's East-West All-Star Basketball Game in 1971. Thompson is a first cousin of Alvin Gentry, both growing up in Shelby, North Carolina.
Thompson led North Carolina State University to an undefeated season (27-0) in 1973, but the Wolfpack was banned from post-season play that year due to NCAA rules violations involving the recruiting of Thompson. He then led the Wolfpack to a 30-1 season and the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship in 1974. In the semifinal game NCSU defeated the reigning national champions, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins in double overtime. In the championship game they won easily over Marquette 76-64. His nickname was "Skywalker" because of his incredible vertical leap. The alley-oop pass, now a staple of today's high-flying, above-the-rim game, was "invented" by Thompson and his NC State teammate Monte Towe, and first used as an integral part of the offense by NC State coach Norm Sloan to take advantage of Thompson's leaping ability.
NC State's game against the nationally 4th-ranked University of Maryland Terrapins in the 1974 ACC Tournament finale, in an era in which only conference champions were invited to the NCAA Tournament, is considered one of the best college basketball games of all time. Thompson and teammate Tommy Burleson led the #1-ranked Wolfpack to a 103-100 win in overtime. Thompson and the Wolfpack would go on to win the national championship that year. Maryland's exclusion from the NCAA Tournament due to the loss, despite their high national ranking, would lead to the expansion of the NCAA Tournament the very next season to include teams other than the league champions.
Thompson played basketball while the slam dunk was outlawed by the "Lew Alcindor" rule. In 1975, playing his final home game at NC State against UNC-Charlotte, late in the second half Thompson on a breakaway received a long pass from a teammate, resulting in the first and only dunk of his collegiate career, a goal that was promptly disallowed by technical foul. Head coach Norm Sloan removed Thompson to thunderous applause. The ACC's most exciting player, who had performed for three years without ever executing the game's most exciting act, thus passed into history.
Michael Jordan, who grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, said that Thompson was his basketball role model as a young man. At some of the basketball camps that Jordan later ran, Jordan would often tell the campers, "He was the guy I looked up to when I was your age." For this reason, Thompson was asked by Jordan in 2009 to introduce him to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Thompson's 44 remains the only number NC State ever retired in men's basketball (although others have been "honored"). It was retired at his last home game.
Thompson was the No. 1 draft pick of both the American Basketball Association (Virginia Squires) and the National Basketball Association (Atlanta Hawks) in the 1975 drafts of both leagues. He eventually signed with the ABA's Denver Nuggets. Explaining his choice between the establishment NBA and the ABA—which offered less real money (but more "deferred" over the life of the contract)—Thompson said when he met with the Hawks, the organization had seemed almost uninterested, to the point of treating him to a meal at McDonald's. Thompson also told the Denver Nuggets he wanted his friend and point guard at N.C. State Monte Towe to have a chance to play in the NBA, and Denver drafted the 5"7"Towe and signed him to a 2-year contract.
Thompson and Julius Erving were the finalists in the first ever Slam-Dunk Competition, held at the 1976 ABA All-Star Game at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver. The competition organizers had arranged the seedings to assure a final round pairing these two dynamic players. Erving won with the first ever foul-line dunk, to this day the standard for leaping and dunking prowess. Thompson, inexplicably, performed even more difficult dunks in warmups, but not in the competition itself—including a dunk called the "cradle the baby" whereby he cradled the ball in the crook of his arm, raised it above the rim, and punched it through. (See Loose Balls by Terry Pluto) Thompson won the MVP of the 1976 ABA All-Star Game, and as a prize, he received a credenza television set.
Thompson made the NBA All-Star Game four seasons, and reached his peak in 1978 season. On April 9, 1978, the last day of the regular NBA season, Thompson scored 73 points against the Detroit Pistons in an effort to win the NBA scoring title (he barely lost the scoring title to San Antonio's George Gervin, who scored 63 points in a game played later that same day). He also led the Denver Nuggets to the NBA playoffs, but they lost to the eventual Western Conference champion Seattle SuperSonics.
After the 1978 season, Thompson signed a record-breaking contract for $4 million over five-years. That amount was more than any basketball player ever had previously been paid. However, from that point, injuries and persistent problems with substance abuse would trouble Thompson and to the significant detriment of the remainder of his NBA career, which came to an end after the 1983–84 season. He severely injured his knee at the notorious Studio 54, epicenter of the New York party scene and antithesis of his humble beginnings. He attempted a comeback with the Indiana Pacers in 1985 but was unsuccessful.
Following his NBA career, Thompson continued using drugs and alcohol. With encouragement from a pastor, he became a committed Christian and reorganized his life. Thompson now devotes his time to working with young basketball players, helping them to aspire to his achievements and avoid his mistakes. His autobiography, Skywalker, charts the highs and lows of his eventful life.
Thompson was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player on May 6, 1996.
Thompson eventually returned to school at North Carolina State, and in 2003 nearly 30 years after his last game for the Wolfpack he finished his degree in sociology. In 2004 David helped make a movie about his life called "Skywalker". Much of the movie was filmed at the Boys and Girls Club in Gastonia, North Carolina with the assistance of Scott Jimison, a long-time friend of David.
Thompson and his wife Cathy have two daughters, Erika and Brooke. He shared the stage with his daughter Erika when the two graduated together on Dec. 17. 2003, after he returned to earn his sociology degree. His daughter, Brooke, was a participant on Global GUTS.
Thompson's first professional year (1975–1976) was spent in the ABA. The rest of his career he played in the NBA due to the ABA–NBA merger in 1976.
|Bold||Denotes career highs|
The Coach Wooden "Keys to Life" Award is presented annually to a member of the college or professional basketball community who lives out qualities exemplified by Coach Wooden; outstanding character, integrity, and leadership on the court, in the work place, in the home, and in the community. The award was established in 1998 and was named for legendary head coach John Wooden, who coached at UCLA. Wooden spent 27 years coaching career at UCLA, compiling 620 wins in 767 games. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.