They called him “Skywalker,” and David Thompson certainly lived up to his nickname.
The Shelby native had a remarkable 44-inch vertical jump that enabled him to perform aerial acrobatics that transformed the game of basketball both on the college and professional level.
Nowhere was that more evident than at N.C. State where Thompson led the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring from 1973-75 and had a career average of 26.8 points per game. He was a three-time All-America at N.C. State and two-time NCAA Player of the Year.
While at State, he and teammate Monte Towe perfected the alley-oop pass, which was specifically designed to take advantage of his leaping ability in an era when NCAA playing rules didn’t allow players to dunk.
Thompson did get to dunk once, though, and it came in his final home game against UNC Charlotte. He was whistled for a technical foul but the crowd roared its approval as Wolfpack Coach Norm Sloan took him out of the game.
There were many big games as Thompson led State to a 79-7 record. But the 1974 NCAA Championship season was a veritable highlight reel for Thompson who was phenomenal when it counted most.
The 6-foot-5 small forward scored 29 points for the top-ranked Wolfpack in an overtime win over No. 4 Maryland in the ACC title game. He then scored another 28, including the game-winner over Bill Walton, in the NCAA semifinals in a double-overtime affair that ended UCLA’s seven-year hammerlock on the national title. Both games are regarded among the top games in NCAA history.
Thompson opted to join the Denver Nuggets in the American Basketball Association, and at the age of 23 was rewarded with a contract that at the time made him the highest paid athlete in team sports. He played seven seasons with the Nuggets and two with Seattle before addiction and a severe knee injury curtailed his career.
Thompson, who once scored 73 points as a pro, is the only player to have competed in both the ABA (1976) and NBA (1977, ’78, ’79 and ’83) All-Star Games. He was MVP of the contest in 1979.
With the NBA All-Star game being played this year on Feb. 18 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Thompson is the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame Member of the Month.
He was inducted into the NCSHOF in 1982, which was a year before he left the NBA. He is one of 53 basketball players honored.
You can learn more about Thompson here. http://www.ncshof.org/davidthompson