Tommy Burleson and David Thompson led N.C. State’s basketball team to the Final Four in 1974 at Greensboro.
This week, the former teammates join baseball’s Jim (Catfish) Hunter and Richard Petty, the king of stock car racing, in a final four of another sort.
Burleson, Hunter, Petty and Thompson are the finalists in The News & Observer’s online poll to select the state’s best native athlete.
Voting this week will end Thursday at noon.
On one side of the bracket, it will be Boiling Springs’ Thompson, who will turn 58 on Friday, against the 7-foot-4, 60-year-old Burleson, nicknamed the “Newland Needle.”
Along with Monte Towe, Morris Rivers, Tim Stoddard, Raleigh’s Phil Spence and their teammates, Thompson and Burleson played on teams that went 57-1 in the 1972-73 and ’73-’74 seasons.
In the ’74 NCAA semifinals, Thompson scored 28 points and had 10 rebounds while Burleson had 20 points and 14 rebounds in an 80-77 upset win over UCLA. The game ended UCLA’s string of seven straight national titles.
On the other side of the bracket, it will be the 75-year-old Petty of Level Cross against the late Hunter, a Hall of Fame pitcher from Hertford who died Sept. 9, 1999 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
In a 14-year career with the Kansas City/Oakland A’s and the New York Yankees, Hunter won 224 games and had a 3.26 earned-run average.
When Hunter signed with the Yankees in 1975, it marked the beginning of the franchise’s free agent strategy under then-new owner George Steinbrenner. Having landed Hunter, the aggressive Steinbrenner soon brought in superstars Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield.
Petty emerged in the late ’60s and ’70s as NASCAR’s first mainstream national celebrity.
Starting in 1967, Petty won 92 races during a five-year stretch and was the primary force in the sport’s sudden appeal to network television.
By 1981, when Petty won the Daytona 500 for the seventh time, stock car racing had advanced from being a regional weekend pastime to a sports staple.
When The N&O tournament began a month ago, the No. 1 seeds were Petty (Region 3), Thompson (Region 1), Charlie Justice (Region 2) and Julius Peppers (Region 3).
Burleson went off as the No. 8 seed in Region 2 and barely edged Justice in the second round and then narrowly escaped No. 5 seed Gaylord Perry in the third round. But in last week’s regional final against sixth-seeded Floyd Patterson, Burleson won by his widest margin (73 percent of the vote) since defeating No. 9 seed Leon Johnson in the first round.
Thompson, in Region 1, has easily been the tournament’s most dominant performer, with overwhelming wins over No, 16 seed Leo Hart, No. 9 seed Dick Hemric, No. 12 seed Josh Hamilton and No. 2 seed Dale Earnhardt Sr..
Petty, in Region 3, has somewhat rivaled Thompson’s success, winning with relative ease over No. 16 seed Scott Hoch, No. 9 seed Buck Williams, No. 4 seed Torry Holt and No. 3 seed Sonny Jurgensen.
Hunter has eliminated No. 13 seed Bobby Bell, No. 5 seed James Worthy, No. 1 seed Peppers and No. 3 seed Enos Slaughter.