NCSU Hall of Fame

DeCock: Thompson's legacy resonates in words of those who admire him

Thompson redefined game, led Wolfpack to 1974 national title

ldecock@newsobserver.comOctober 5, 2012 

  • Cast The star David Thompson, member of inaugural class of N.C. State’s Hall of Fame, basketball superstar from Shelby, high-flying, high-scoring star of the 1974 national championship team. At 6-foot-4, invented the modern small-forward position. Pro career derailed by injuries and drug problems. Turned his life around and lives outside Charlotte, where he frequently speaks about his rise, fall and recovery. The supporting players • Phil Spence, forward on the 1974 team, future coach at N.C. Central. Member of Broughton High Hall of Fame. • Tim Stoddard, forward on the 1974 team, future MLB relief pitcher, now pitching coach at Northwestern. • Monte Towe, point guard on the 1974 team, future N.C. State assistant coach, now an assistant coach at Middle Tennessee State. The chorus • Matt Doherty, former North Carolina player and coach. Now a broadcaster and NBA scout. • Julius Hodge, N.C. State player from 2002 through ’05. • Carl Scheer, former Denver Nuggets general manager, now senior adviser for community relations for the Charlotte Bobcats. • Charlie Scott, basketball star at North Carolina, teammate of Thompson’s with the Denver Nuggets. • Bucky Waters, N.C. State player in 1956-58, coach at Duke in Thompson’s first season at N.C. State, 1973.
  • More information If you go N.C. State is inducting its first Hall of Fame class Friday night at Reynolds Coliseum. Tickets are $75 for adults, $30 for children 10 and younger. Tickets must be purchased by noon Friday at 5:30 p.m.: Drinks and hors d’oeuvres 7:30 p.m.: Induction ceremony 9:30 p.m.: Dessert social and autographs Watch it: The ceremony will be shown online at and televised on Time Warner Cable digital channel 518. The inductees: Basketball coaches Jim Valvano, Everett Case and Kay Yow join star player David Thompson. Joining those four are women’s basketball player Genia Beasley; football players Ted Brown, Roman Gabriel and Jim Richter; men’s soccer player Tab Ramos, and women’s runner Julie Shea.
  • More information 44 Number 44, Or better known as “HOTDOG.” I don’t know why they call him that Because he is not a ball hog. This cat is super, These people must be jealous. To be as great as he is, He is still one of the fellows. Words can’t describe him. He’s just that good. To help someone, He’d do all he could. Two weeks ago, Maryland visited State. Now they are a witness, To why he is so great. Forty-one points . . . Eight rebounds . . . Numerous assists . . . And all without a sound. David Thompson is the man. The man of whom I speak. A good teammate to have, And a good friend to keep. Each day he does something different, Better than the day before. He takes charges and gets rebounds, And for loose balls, he’s on the floor. His vertical jump is 42 inches. His horizontal jump is from mid-court. He seldom shows emotion, I tell you, he’s some sport. He’s the nucleus of our team. He’s that one Wolf who leads the Pack. I’m trying to think of something, That David might lack. When one speaks of the best, His name won’t be left out. I will try to be like David Thompson, And that I have no doubt. Phil Spence, Jan. 13, 1974, Reprinted with permission

As David Thompson joins the inaugural class in N.C. State’s Hall of Fame on Friday, almost 39 years after his sky-walking ways led the Wolfpack to a national championship, the basketball star from Shelby still rises far, far above his peers.

He changed the way the game was played, taking it off the floor and “above the rim,” a phrase coined to describe Thompson’s game. Despite his relatively diminutive stature, he created the modern small forward or “3” position, a player equally comfortable inside or outside, the prototype for the game Michael Jordan, who idolized Thompson, would one day play.

And yet there’s an entire generation of basketball fans and players who never saw Thompson play. His greatest exploits, in college and the 1976 American Basketball Association dunk contest with Julius Erving, predated the saturation TV coverage basketball gets today. And his NBA career fizzled because of injuries and drug abuse just as that league was beginning its climb to transcendent popularity.

“It’s obviously a great honor, going in the first (Hall of Fame) class,” Thompson said. “There will never be another first class. When you look upon all the greats in the history of N.C. State, there are a lot of people I respect and admire.”

It’s an affirmation of just how good Thompson was, that his name and legacy still resonate in these words, from those who knew him best and those who admired him from afar.

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

How important was Thompson to winning the 1974 national championship?

“It was six against five. ‘DT’ counted as two.” Phil Spence

“Winning meant everything to him. It just so happened that winning sometimes meant he had to score 40 points.” Towe

“From Day One, from the time we got together with him, I don’t think there was ever a time when we didn’t think we were going to win. It was going to be a battle. At some point, you were going to have to find a way to beat us.” Stoddard

“When they beat UCLA, it was a time when UCLA really thought of being unbeatable. I would think that his ability at that time, what N.C. State did, was really one of the great things of that time. He was the central point of that story.” Scott

“Honestly, we had a great team: 30-1, national champions. It helped that I was a leader and key player on that team, ACC Player of the Year, national player of the year. You still see clips from that team, like my block of Bill Walton.” Thompson

Did anyone realize at the time Thompson was changing the game to the extent that he did?

“He was the original high-flyer. Now there’s guys who are a little bit bigger, get a little bit higher. Taking the dunk out of basketball, not getting to watch David Thompson dunk a basketball, was one of the biggest tragedies ever in college basketball.” Towe

“I thought I was a pretty good dunker. DT, he put all that stuff to shame. He sure did.” Spence

“Growing up on Long Island, our crew of guys playing ball at the park would always try to imitate certain people. None of us could imitate David Thompson. He was doing things I don’t think any of us ever recalled seeing before.” Matt Doherty

“He kept (the ABA) alive. We went from 11 teams to seven and we were about to go under. It was the great play of Julius (Erving) and David and (Dan) Issel and Artis Gilmore. We had great players, and if we could just stay alive past the (1976) All-Star Game, we could get a merger going. We just needed to keep our great players out front. Thompson was very important to the NBA’s ultimate decision to take four teams.” Carl Scheer

“I definitely see a lot of his game nowadays watching basketball. The evolution of the small-forward position, not only being able to knock it down from outside but to get the basketball and finish above the rim, he definitely was a pioneer in basketball in starting all that.” Julius Hodge

“Me and Julius (Erving), we really brought the high-flying into the game at the 1976 All-Star Game. The 360s, the windmills, the tomahawks, all the things guys are doing now, those are all things we started. You’re seeing guys still doing that today, spectacular players. We started the alley-oop, way back in the ’70s.” Thompson

Is it possible for fans and players today to truly appreciate how good Thompson was?

“He was just one of a kind. It’s like a piece of art. People who watched him play, they’ll never see another one like him.” Towe

“I think it’s something that takes time, for the young players to truly appreciate what Mr. Thompson was able to bring to N.C. State. Even for me, my first year, I maybe wasn’t as enlightened as I am now. As time grew, I definitely became in tune with the legend. Even now, we just had an alumni dinner a couple weeks ago. When I saw him, I saw still just a little kid who wanted to ask for his autograph and take a picture with him.” Hodge

“Sometimes, you talk about guys who played in the ’70s or earlier who may have been great players, but their games wouldn’t be relevant, as relevant, today. I do believe David Thompson would be relevant today. You could take the same David Thompson, freeze him from 1974, drop him into 2012, I still think he’d be a great player.” Doherty

“Whether you were watching, coaching or sitting at home, you were on the edge of your seat. You were going to see something you never saw before.” Waters

“It’s amazing. Even though the kids are really young now, they know my name, know what I did. That shows a lot of class, a lot of respect.” Thompson

DeCock: 919-829-8947,, Twitter: @LukeDeCock

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