Fowler: Get a piece of David Thompson's stuff

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comNovember 29, 2012 


— David Thompson has a lot of stuff.

His legendary basketball career produced a bumper crop of plaques, trophies, rings and scissored nets. And he’s not the particularly nostalgic type.

So Thompson is selling 49 pieces of his personal basketball memorabilia through an auction site (, including his 1974 N.C. State national championship ring and his old Crest High jersey.

As of Wednesday, the high bid on the championship ring was $9,746 and the high bid on the Crest jersey was $3,300. The auction ends Saturday.

Among the other 47 items in what is being billed as “The David Thompson Collection” is one of the nets from the 1974 N.C. State-Maryland ACC final, the 103-100 classic considered one of the greatest games ever played (minimum bid of $750).

In our phone interview Wednesday, Thompson, 58, said he was selling some (but not all) of the stuff he collected through his dazzling basketball career because, while he “isn’t broke by any means,” most of his memorabilia was gathering dust. And the money wouldn’t hurt, either, he acknowledged.

“Everybody needs money,” said Thompson, who makes a living these days with occasional motivational speeches and personal appearances. “Everybody has bills. A lot of the guys from my generation have done this, and I just felt like the time was right.”

OK, let’s get the debate out of the way. Some people who read this will feel like Thompson should never, ever part with any of his memorabilia. To me, it’s his to do with whatever he wants.

Thompson said he has talked to Julius Erving and George Gervin, among others, who have sold some of their collections and advised him to do it. Dr. J, in particular, made a boatload of money off his auction – he sold an American Basketball Association championship ring for $460,000. Thompson’s total sale will generate far less than that.

Thompson said many of the items he put up for sale (alongside items from fellow Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Sam Jones) were stored in his late parents’ family home outside Shelby or in boxes in his attic at his home in Charlotte. His No. 33 high school jersey was once displayed by Crest, Thompson said, but was later given to him by his high school coach.

“Back then you only got one jersey,” Thompson said. “I wore that one for three years.”

Thompson said he had been considering a sale for some time.

“The auction people had been talking to me about three years now about unloading with some of this stuff,” he said. “I put out some good stuff but I kept some of the main things for myself to see how this thing would go.”

Thompson said he planned to give some of the money he earns from the auction to charity, including an increase in his annual donation to The “V” Foundation for cancer research and a donation to the American Diabetes Association (his wife has diabetes).

The auction house, which is located in California, asked him about selling his Basketball Hall of Fame ring. He declined to sell that, as well as some mementoes from his ABA and NBA days.

Thompson said the N.C. State national championship ring was the hardest to give up, even though he had only worn it once or twice to reunions. His hope is that an N.C. State fan would buy the ring and ultimately donate it to the school’s newly established athletic hall of fame.

Now, some of you reading this might not know who Thompson is. Former Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown once offered me the most succinct explanation I’ve ever heard.

“David Thompson,” Brown said, “was Michael Jordan before there was a Michael Jordan.”

In my opinion, Thompson was the best ACC basketball player there ever was if you go strictly by collegiate careers – better than Jordan, better than Christian Laettner, better than everybody. His nickname was “Skywalker.” He once dunked a ball so hard as a pro that he shattered the backboard. He missed the rest of the game because of all the glass pebbles lodged in his Afro.

He had a chance to be one of the best players ever in pro basketball, too – he once scored 73 points in a game and was MVP of ABA and NBA all-star games. But that chance was ultimately undone by twin addictions to alcohol and cocaine.

He has been sober for more than 20 years and has spoken honestly many times to kids about the mistakes he made and his belief that God finally saved him.

Thompson soared way above us, and then he fell lower than most of us, and now he’s pretty much like a lot of us. He’s thinking about the future. He’s a little worried about money. He wants to pare down what he has.

The difference is that while we might take our excess stuff to Goodwill, Thompson can sell his for good money. Good for him.

Fowler: Twitter: @Scott_Fowler;

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