Thompson (left) and Julius Erving, 1976 ABA All-Star Game, January 27, 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|
|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
David O'Neil Thompson (born July 13, 1954) is an American former 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 was known for his exceptional leaping ability that enabled him to become one of the game's premier dunkers in the 1970s, which earned him the nickname of "Skywalker". Michael Jordan said, "The whole meaning of vertical leap began with David Thompson." Bill Walton described Thompson as "Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and LeBron James rolled into one".
High school career
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, UCLA, 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 from 1967 to 1977 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 a technical foul.
Thompson's number 44 remains the lone number retired by the school in men's basketball.
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. He finished runner-up to Julius Erving in the first-ever Slam-Dunk Competition, held at the 1976 ABA All-Star Game in Denver, but was named MVP of the ABA All-Star Game. As a prize, he received a credenza television set.
After the ABA–NBA merger in 1976, Thompson continued with the Nuggets, and made the NBA All-Star Game four times. On April 9, 1978, the last day of the regular season, Thompson scored 73 points against the Detroit Pistons in an effort to win the NBA scoring title, which he lost by percentage points to the San Antonio Spurs' George Gervin, who scored 63 points in a game played later that same day.
After the 1977-78 season, Thompson signed a then-record contract extension that paid him $4 million over five years. After a foot injury caused him to miss the final 36 games of the 1979-80 season, he returned to average 25.5 points in 77 games the next year. However, after he dipped to 14.9 points in 1981-82, the Nuggets traded him to the Seattle SuperSonics on June 17, 1982 for Bill Hanzlik and a draft pick.
Despite making the 1982-83 All-Star team with Seattle, Thompson averaged only 15.9 points in the final season of his contract, and missed nearly all of the 1983-84 season due to drug rehabilitation. Following his release, the Sonics resigned him for the remaining nineteen games of the 1983–84 season, in which he averaged a career low of 12.6 points before a 1984 knee injury forced him into retirement.
Thompson's substance abuse problems began due to feelings of "loneliness and isolation" after his 1979-80 foot injury. They first became public after his erratic debut season in Seattle, after which he checked into a Denver rehabilitation facility in 1983. His career-ending 1984 knee injury resulted from him being shoved down a stairwell during a fight at Studio 54, and later factored into his failed 1985 tryout with the Indiana Pacers, after which he was arrested that night for public intoxication. By 1986, Thompson was reportedly spending $1,000 daily on cocaine, for which he checked into rehab that year in Kirkland, Washington. After he was sentenced to 180 days in jail in 1987 for assaulting his wife, Thompson became a committed Christian and reorganized his life.
Life after the NBA
Thompson worked with the Charlotte Hornets' community-relations department in 1990, and, at age 37, played in the Legends Classic during the 1992 NBA All-Star Weekend, but he was one of two participants (with Norm Nixon) who were stretchered off the court with serious leg injuries. This resulted in the league retiring the event after the 1993 festivities.
Thompson returned to North Carolina State in 2003 to complete his degree in sociology. The next year, he shot an autobiographical film titled Skywalker. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on May 6, 1996, and introduced Michael Jordan for the latter's 2009 induction. He currently works as a motivational speaker and participates in events with the Hornets and Denver Nuggets.
Thompson and his wife Cathy had two daughters, Erika and Brooke. He shared the stage with his daughter Erika when the two graduated together on December 17, 2003, after he returned to earn his sociology degree. His daughter, Brooke, was a participant on Global GUTS. Cathy passed away in August 2016.
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 Sporting News national Player of the Year (1975)
- USBWA College Player of the Year (1975)
- Consensus First-Team All-America (1973, 1974, 1975) by Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), Eastman Kodak, The Sporting News
- AP National Player of the Year (1974, 1975)
- UPI Player of the Year (1975)
- Eastman Kodak Award (1975)
- Naismith Award (1975)
- Adolph Rupp Trophy (1975)
- 2× AP Player of the Year (1974, 1975)
- Helms Foundation Player of the Year (1974, 1975)
- National Association of Basketball Coaches Player of the Year (1975)
- United States Basketball Writers Association Player of the Year (1975)
- Sullivan Award finalist (1974, 1975)
- Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Player of the Year (1973, 1974, 1975)
- ACC Athlete of the Year (1973, 1975)
- All-ACC First Team (1973, 1974, 1975)
- North Carolina State retired his jersey number 44 (1975)
- Led North Carolina State to the 1974 NCAA championship (30-1 record), 76-64 over Marquette University
- Most Valuable Player (MVP), NCAA Tournament (1974)
- Led Wolfpack to a 79-7 record during his final three season (freshmen were ineligible then) including 57-1 during his sophomore and junior seasons (27-0, 30-1), the best in ACC history. His senior year record was 22-6.
- Scored 2,309 points (26.8 ppg) in 86 varsity games; including highs of 57 points as a senior, 41 as a junior and 40 as a sophomore
- Averaged 35.6 ppg, including a 54-point high on the North Carolina State freshman team
- World University Games MVP (1973)
- Enshrined in North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame (1982)
- NCAA All-Decade Team of the 1970s
- Named to the ACC 50th Anniversary men's basketball team as one of the fifty greatest players in ACC history
- The Sporting News ABA Rookie of the Year (1976)
- ABA Rookie of the Year (1976)
- All-ABA (1976)
- MVP, 1976 ABA All-Star Game
- All-NBA First Team (1977, 1978)
- Four-time NBA All-Star
- MVP, 1979 NBA All-Star Game
- Only player in history named MVP of both the ABA and NBA All-Star Games
- Scored a career-high 73 points against Detroit (April 9, 1978)
- Scored a then-NBA record 32 points in the second quarter against Detroit Pistons, a record that was broken by George Gervin (33 against New Orleans Jazz on the same day ) when Gervin won the 1978 scoring title with a 63-point output
- The Nuggets retired his jersey number 33 (November 2, 1992)
- Colorado Professional Athlete of the Year (1977)
- Scored 2,158 points (26.0 ppg) in the ABA
- Scored 11,264 points (22.1 ppg) in the NBA
- Rash, Ronald (November 21, 2011). "Lost Moments in Basketball History". Grantland. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
- "In 1974, NC State stood atop hoops world". espn.com. Archived from the original on August 20, 2016. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
- "NCAA Tournament History". cbssports.com. Archived from the original on March 23, 2018. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
- "Lew's Still Loose". Time Magazine. April 14, 1967. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
- Peeler, Tim (March 1, 2017). "Pack legend David Thompson only dunked once in a college game". Retrieved June 27, 2020.
- "Thompson: 5-Year Pact At $750,000". The New York Times. April 19, 1978. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016.
- Simpson, Kevin (June 10, 1987). "Jail the Latest Stop in Downward Spiral of David Thompson". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 19, 2019.
- "David Thompson, the NBA superstar who fell from grace". UPI Archives. August 15, 1983. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
- "David Thompson, the skywalking guard brought down by cocaine". UPI Archives. January 13, 1984. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
- Robinson, John (March 29, 1990). "David soared and scored like Michael - until he found drugs". The Deseret News. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
- Patton, Robes (February 8, 1992). "THOMPSON, NIXON INJURED IN LEGENDS CLASSIC". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved June 19, 2019.
- Spears, Marc J. "Thompson to open Hall's doors for Jordan – NBA". Yahoo! Sports. Archived from the original on January 29, 2011. Retrieved January 29, 2011.
- "David Thompson: The ACC's Greatest Player". gopack.com. Archived from the original on October 23, 2014. Retrieved May 8, 2018.