What else did you think that NC State fans had to discuss the week of the 2008 ACC Tournament? The early 1970s, of course!
All sarcasm aside, the Charlotte Observer‘s Ron Green ran a great piece today calling David Thompson “The Best Ever” in the best basketball league in America. Green’s piece can be read by clicking here.
He was the best who ever soared in that league of eagles. You could argue for Michael Jordan and you might be right, but they played under different rules, in different programs, at different times. Jordan’s impact on the game came primarily as a professional. Thompson was a star in pro ball for a while, before he lost his way and abused his body and mind, but it was as a collegian that he made his enormous impact on the game. He was 6-foot-4, but he could touch the top of the backboard from a standing start. Without benefit of the dunk, which was against the rules, or the 3-point shot, which hadn’t been created, he had a 25.8 career scoring average.
In the foreword to Thompson’s book, “Skywalker,” former UCLA Hall of Famer Bill Walton, a 7-footer who once had his shot blocked by Thompson, proclaimed him “the single greatest college player I ever played against.”
Thompson was All-American three times, national player of the year twice, and his teams won all but nine of their games over three years — all but one over a two-season span — and won an NCAA title.
Cedric Maxwell, the former Charlotte 49ers All-American, said of that time, “In North Carolina, there was God and then there was David Thompson.”
Another reason why we ran this piece today is because we had an entry that we completed back on Super Bowl Sunday and failed to post to the site. Green’s article today dovetailed nicely with the piece that follows but that we had failed to post to the site:
‘Greatness Emerged on Super Sunday’
Often, the reality doesn’t match the hype. This wasn’t the case that day, as two highly-talented college basketball teams spent the afternoon displaying jaw-dropping athleticism and skills in runs that would have buried lesser teams.The first of six remarkable clashes between the teams over the 1973 and 1974 seasons, culminating with a classic ACC Tournament finals in ‘74, aired as an hors d’oeuvre to Super Bowl VII. All but one game in that Maryland-N.C. State series was decided by six or fewer points; the Wolfpack won every time, none more dramatically than that first meeting.
It is Super Bowl Sunday, which means that Wolfpack fans of all ages are required to be reminded of the legendary NC State-Maryland match-ups of the early 1970s. In light of TWO great articles on the topic that have been published recently we thought it was a great time to share this entry so that we can save it for the future.
This piece from TheACC.com details how the game came to fruition and highlights the historical significance of those early State-Maryland games to the both the ACC and all of college basketball. Isn’t that crazy? I bet if you are younger than 35 – or you work in the national media – you probably thought that only Carolina and Duke could play in a meaningful game. But, the State-Maryland game was the FIRST nationally televised Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball game in history. Boy, did they pick a good one.
(David) Thompson, a 6-4 wing, scored 37 points against the Terps at a time when there was no shot clock to force action, no 3-point line to reward his long jumpers, and no dunk to facilitate his breathtaking above-the-rim play. “He was spectacular without those things,” Towe said. “This was the beginning of the Maryland-has-no-answer-for-David Thompson series.”
The score was tied at 85-all when, with 12 seconds remaining, Burleson missed a forced jumper over Elmore. The ball bounced high off the rim, and suddenly, floating toward the basket, here came Thompson.
“It’s almost like a Jordan commercial, where everything starts to go in slow motion,” recalled Elmore, referring of course to UNC’s Michael Jordan, who grew up idolizing the Wolfpack star. “You see Thompson rising up…”
And up, and up, until he grabbed the rebound of Burleson’s miss and guided it into the basket, scoring the winning points as the buzzer sounded.
A pair of teams permeated with comparable talent would be quite rare in today’s world of quick exits to the NBA. “There was a huge buildup to the game because obviously Maryland was very good and we were very good,” said Towe, a superlative, 5-7 playmaker.
N.C. State and Maryland boasted five eventual first-round pro draft picks between them – the Wolfpack’s Tom Burleson and David Thompson and the Terrapins’ Len Elmore, John Lucas, and Tom McMillen. Thompson and Lucas were the No. 1 selections in 1975 and 1976, respectively. Terps Jim O’Brien, Tom Roy, and Mo Howard were eventually second- and third-round selections.
N.C. State posted a 57-1 record, the best two-year burst in ACC history. The Pack was 27-0 in 1973, but on probation and ineligible for postseason play. Norm Sloan’s squad won the national championship the following season, dethroning seemingly invincible UCLA in the process.
As for Thompson, look toward the ceiling of Raleigh’s RBC Center. N.C. State has honored a number of jerseys, but retired only one. Number 44 belonged to Thompson, who began to establish himself as the greatest ACC player of all time on a Super Bowl Sunday 35 years ago.