David Thompson’s legacy resonates today


I know that this article was covered in our Friday Farrago, but this one really needs its own entry.

(By the way, I hope that you take advantage of the great work that 1.21 Jigawatts provides you every morning with our morning webruns. I find huge value in the centralized experience of a single place to go to find my daily reading in addition to our robust message forums.)

As we gear up for tonight’s big Hall of Fame event (please let us know if you are going or are staying home) we needed to specially recognize the greatest basketball player to ever don the Red and White – and perhaps, ANY college uniform.

How would you describe Thompson’s game to someone who never saw him play?

“I don’t know if they could understand it. You almost had to experience being in the league with him, being on the team with him, watching him dominate people – the things he did, not just during the season, but the pickup games in Carmichael Gym. He was just truly in a class by himself.” Monte Towe

“If you saw him when he was 20 years old, you’d be absolutely amazed at what he could do. His jumping ability was so phenomenal, but he developed his whole game. The ‘Skywalker’ nickname wasn’t just it. He was a defensive player. He shot the ball from outside. He could put it on the floor. He was our go-to guy, no question about that. He had all the confidence in the world out there in crunch time: ‘Get me the ball.’ And he’d do it for us.” Tim Stoddard

“Of course there was his jumping ability. But his jump shot was the biggest thing. He was a great jump-shooter. That’s what he did most of the time. I know you had the alley-oop passes and all that, but he was a great, great jump-shooter.” Charlie Scott

“He did it without any fanfare. He just got the ball and went to work and you went ‘aah,’ ‘ooh,’ ‘wow.’ There wasn’t any drum roll or cymbals. He had a classy way of pulling your heart out while it was still beating. You admired him so, but there wasn’t much you could do about it.” Bucky Waters

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13 Responses to David Thompson’s legacy resonates today

  1. old13 10/05/2012 at 10:44 AM #

    I’ll never forget the photo in SI from the NCAA semi-final Pack win over UCLA in 1974 – 6-11 Bill Walton and 7-4 (he says 7-2) Tommy Burleson from the neck up, each with one arm straight up over their heads going for a rebound/tip-away with the ball just a couple of inches over the tips of their fingers. And in the background, 6-4 DT from the chest up picking the ball off of their fingers using both hands and with arms bent, not straight up. For those of us who were around to see him play, I don’t know of any other sports figure or event that could even come close to the thrill of his play. Even after seeing him play multiple times, I was amazed each and every time at something that he did on the court – usually more than just a few things!

    The only time I ever saw him play in person was in Kansas City against the old KC Kings. He once drove the length of the floor, leaped at the foul line, and dunked the ball – “Skywalker!”

    Bio and stats: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Thompson_(basketball)

  2. fullmoon1 10/05/2012 at 1:47 PM #

    I Was really too young to appreciate it when he played but my dad spoke of him like he was Babe Ruth. He was truly a legend. I remember playing basket ball in the late 70′s pretending to be DT on the playground. I often remind friends that Michael Jordan wanted to be David Thompson. He was perhaps one of the best representatives of NCSU ever. He was so agile vertically inclined, he must have been a nightmare to guard.

  3. old13 10/05/2012 at 2:34 PM #

    DT blocks Walton:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whIPLxAXGc4

    DT mix:

  4. Seventy Eight 10/05/2012 at 3:04 PM #

    Greatest college basketball player ever. What a shame the “no dunk” rule was still in place.

  5. Master 10/05/2012 at 3:33 PM #

    I attended every NC State home game from the time David was a freshman until he graduated. He was undoubtedly the most gifted athlete I have witnessed in person since I began attending ACC basketball games in 1967 thru 2006. Most fans today cannot relate to the kind of player who could shoot any shot from 23 feet in to the basket. He simply had every shot in the book and you knew it was going in every time he shot it. His 20 foot jumper was as sweet as any I’ve ever seen. He could hit the pull up from 12 feet, 8 feet, 4 feet and I guess his alley oop was a 6″ pull up “drop shot”. Even with today’s incredible athletes, I believe he would still dominate the game.

    I met David in college in the spring of ’75, but my high point was when I had the honor of introducing David to over 1500 people at a Men’s Ministry banquet here in Charleston 3 years ago. I spent 30 minutes with him prior to the banquet and then almost an hour collecting money for his book aftrwards. He stayed until every single person who asked either got an autograph or picture.

    Then I pulled out all the newspapers (N&O and Raleigh Times) from the ’74 season that I had been saving for 35 years and he autographed several of his most famous photos including the large one of him in bandages walking onto the court after cracking his head in the regional final. Incredibly humble and nice.

  6. Pack78 10/05/2012 at 3:34 PM #

    My brother’s RA his freshman year at GT graduated from Shelby High the same year DT was finishing at Crest.He told my bro that Crest and Shelby played home and home BB games and DT had murdered Shelby in the first game. Shelby’s game plan was to guard DT with three defenders in the return match strategizing that the other four Crest players would have to beat them, but that it would not be Thompson. The RA told my bro that DT went for something like 44 in the return game…

  7. NCSU84 10/05/2012 at 3:50 PM #

    I grew up in Raleigh and DT watched DT operate. He could not be stopped and had a complete game. Guard him too close he would drive around you, guard him too lose and he would shoot over you, put a big man on him and he used his jumping ability to elevate over the big man. Awesome, awesome, player. Two important facts that are often overlooked when speaking of DT: DT did not have a shot clock nor did he have a three point line. When DT scored 40pts, that would probably equate to a 60pt game today.

  8. Wufpacker 10/05/2012 at 3:50 PM #

    One of my earliest sports memories, at least ones that I can still remember that is…is DT falling on his head. Even as seven year old, I knew that looked really bad and was just as shocked as everyone else when he came back out, bandaged or not.

    Babe Ruth fears the Skywalker. And George Lucas still owes him an assload of royalties IMHO.

  9. bill.onthebeach 10/05/2012 at 6:19 PM #

    As others who know will confirm….. what made “DT” special wasn’t his just his on the court talents….

    I was a year behind him at State… but had the opportunity on many occasions to ‘hang’ with that team…. David was as humble, as ordinary a guy, as you ever met. If he had been just another ‘engineering’ or ‘english’ major… he would have still have been a crowd favorite, definitely not like the ‘prima donnas’ in today’s bball world.

    Maybe that’s why his troubles with success in the NBA troubled some of us who knew him deeply and also why, among other reasons, he has been able to that to turn that into a personal success.

    For me.. that is the measure of any man…. how he handles his troubles.

    And David is a pro.

  10. ADVENTUROO 10/05/2012 at 10:19 PM #

    Like many others, I watched the team. I remember in 1972 when I was babysitting my almost 2 yo while his mom was VERY PG playing bridge. We beat UNC. I was yelling so loud that it almost upset him. Then he got with the drill….when I yelled, he would yell. That, yes, was PRE-Thompson, but I was hooked on BB.

    Then came the undefeated 1973 season. Finally, in 1974, I went down to the local appliance store and bought a 19″ COLOR TV. It weighed a ton and I dadgummed broke my back carrying it in. We then sat down for the game in Reynolds. When David fell and was carried out, my wife walked over and almost took a hammer to the NEW TV. She told me that I had jinxed the team and probably killed DT. Fortunately he came back and she calmed down. He if HAD been seriously hurt, I would have had to clean up a $500 mess in our den.

    Later on….really later on….maybe 5 years ago, we rode into the Greensboro Colesium from the remote parking lot. DT was on the shuttle bus and was busy signing autographs and never lost his charm and smile.

    What he went through in the Pro’s is history. I STILL have the commerative Reynolds Floor with his signature. That will be a treasure.

  11. tractor57 10/06/2012 at 7:19 AM #

    I was about a year too young to see David play college ball in Reynolds but I did see the exhibition game the Nuggets played in Reynolds in ’75 (my first semester at State). Prior to that I watch on TV and was always amazed at his talent, drive and the fact he seemed to be everyman (but with the S on his chest).
    I have to say my breathe was taken away when he had the great fall. I sure hoped he was not seriously injured.
    Years later I met him at a card collector event. Granted he was being paid for the appearance but he also seemed so happy to be there. Regardless he left a great impression. For those who have not read his autobiography”Skywalker” I highly recommend the read. In it he does not gloss over his issues while in the NBA.

  12. Tuffy2 10/06/2012 at 9:58 AM #

    Reynolds would be at capacity to watch the JV play as that in itself should say it all.
    This might have been stated before but when you see players today hit a shot off the glass 9 times out of 10 it was luck. He perfected that shot.
    David was really about 6’3 1/2 or 3/4 but was listed 6’4.

  13. LoCoPack 10/06/2012 at 6:23 PM #

    Great post and a lot of great memories. I started my freshman year at R-S Central in ’70. When Shelby and DT came to play, everyone went to the game to see DT. He scored over 40 and we lost by that much.

    I started State in the fall of ’74 (after the NC) and got to see many games in Reynolds. I managed to get courtside seats for DT’s last home game against UNC-C (I think). We were well ahead late in the game. He got the ball near mid-court, it may have been a steal, and he took off for the basket. He was all alone and left the ground at about the foul line. He slam dunked the ball and the roof nearly came off Reynolds! He was of course called for the technical but nobody cared.

    The Technician always had a quote of the day and the next day the quote was “When I was in the air.” Of course that was DT’s response to the question, “When did you decide to dunk the ball?”

    Thanks for reminding me of some great times.

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