Posts Tagged ‘David Thompson’

No scoring title tension for Durant, compared to Iceman vs. Skywalker, ’78

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Hall of Famers George Gervin (left) and David Thompson staged a tight scoring race in 19XX. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The scoring race between Hall of Famers George Gervin (left) and David Thompson in 1978 went down to the wire. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

There is no scoring race in the NBA this season. Not anymore. Kevin Durant tucked that thing in his back pocket sometime back in March during his streak of 41 games with 25 points or more. The Oklahoma City MVP favorite averaged 34.8 points over the half-season from Jan. 7 through Sunday, pulling up his season average to 32.0.

That has the rest of the field chasing Secretariat, as ridden by Usain Bolt. Consider the math: Durant could go scoreless in the Thunder’s final five games and he’d still wind up averaging 30.0 points. For nearest-challenger Carmelo Anthony (27.5 ppg) to catch him – Durant’s actual average at that point would be 30.04938272 – Anthony would need to score 309 points in New York’s final four games. That’s an average of 77.3.

LeBron James, currently in third place at 26.9 ppg, would have an extra game. If he played them all. Which he won’t. But the Miami superstar would need to get 385 points in the Heat’s final five games, an average of 77.0, to boost himself past Durant – if Durant plays five games without scoring a single point the rest of the way.

So this scoring race has been over for some time.

But that wasn’t the case 36 years ago today, when George Gervin and David Thompson shot it out in the closest, most stunning race ever for the scoring title.

Imagine Anthony, on the season’s final night, scoring 73 points against Toronto next Wednesday to move ahead of Durant, only to learn later that the OKC star had scored 63 points to wrest back the crown by the narrowest margin ever (0.0695 points).

That’s precisely what Gervin and Thompson did. Only more dramatically, in an epic anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better showdown that played out seven hours and 1,000 miles apart.

Thompson: ‘Superman on steroids’

Thompson, the Denver Nuggets’ 23-year-old wing player, was first up. He woke up in Detroit for a matinee game trailing Gervin in the scoring race by just 0.2 points per game, 26.6 to the Spurs star’s 26.8. There wasn’t much else to play for – Denver already had clinched its division, while Detroit had been eliminated from a playoff spot days earlier. There weren’t many to play for either, with attendance of just 3,482 at Cobo Arena that Sunday afternoon.

Denver Nuggets vs. Milwaukee Bucks

David Thompson (Vernon Biever/NBAE via Getty Images)

Gervin’s San Antonio team was scheduled to face the Jazz in New Orleans that evening. Thompson only knew that, based on their stats at the moment, he trailed “The Iceman” by 16 points in the scoring race (26.56 to Gervin’s 26.77). Nuggets coach Larry Brown apparently knew it, too, as Thompson related in his 2003 book, Skywalker:

“Do you want to go for it today?” Coach Brown asked me before the game. Whether we won or lost, we were still headed for the playoffs. So the coach was willing to let me shoot to my heart’s content to win the NBA scoring title. If I put up astronomical numbers, then Gervin, playing in New Orleans that evening, would be chasing me.

I hit the first eight shots I took, mainly medium-range jumpers from 15 to 18 feet. As the quarter wore on, I also got a few dunks on alley-oops. … Not realizing what had just occurred — it all happened so fast — I was amazed to learn later that I had set an NBA record for most points in a quarter with 32. That beat Wilt Chamberlain’s 1962 mark by one, set in that historic game where Wilt scored 100 points. Equally stunning was my accuracy in that first quarter. I went 13-14 from the field ([Ben] Poquette‘s block being the only shot I missed) and 6-6 from the foul line.

Thompson scored 21 more in the second quarter for 53 by halftime, and everyone in the building – along with some media people in Detroit suddenly scrambling to get there – could do the easy math and anticipate a challenge to Chamberlain’s and the NBA’s most famous record. As Thompson recalled:

You could see it on the Detroit players’ faces – something like, “There’s no way we can let this guy get 100 on us.” A hundred points? Heck, I was just a 6-foot-4 guard with a hot hand. I nailed the first 20 of 21 shots I had taken and was 20-23 at the half. I’d caught fire before, but never anything like this. … My 13 field goals were also a new NBA record, and it still stands to this day. I was definitely in the zone; I felt like Superman on steroids.

Thompson scored 20 more points in the second half, shooting 8 of 15 after the break. He sank 17 of 20 free throws that day, and his 73 points – the third highest total ever – raised his scoring average to 27.15. He and the Nuggets caught a flight back to Denver, and when Thompson got home, he searched on the radio dial for the Spurs-Jazz broadcast. His rival needed 58 points. That game was in the second quarter when Thompson found it, and he didn’t like what he heard.

 ‘The Iceman’ chaseth

Like Thompson, Gervin had entered the NBA the previous season, merging in when the league absorbed four ABA teams (Nuggets, Spurs, Nets and Pacers) before 1976-77. Nicknamed “The Iceman,” the lanky (6-foot-7), laconic swingman from Eastern Michigan was two years older than Thompson and just as lethal with a basketball. He had averaged 22.2 points in his first five seasons but kicked it up in his sixth, pursuing the first of what would be four NBA scoring titles.

But the first wasn’t guaranteed, as Gervin – talking about that day 18 years later, when he and Thompson were announced as Hall of Fame inductees – learned in a rude awakening:

I was asleep in my hotel room when a reporter called and said, ‘Ice, Thompson scored 73.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s it,’ and I hung up and went back to sleep. Down in the lobby later, some of the guys on the Spurs said, ‘Ice, we’re going to help you.’ My guys loved me.

George Gervin (Anthony Neste/NBAE/Getty Images)

George Gervin (Anthony Neste/NBAE/Getty Images)

Gervin shared more details, at least as he recalled them 36 years later, in a recent studio appearance on Sirius XM’s NBA channel (217):

So it was set up for me. Doug Moe was my coach, so anybody know anything about Doug, we was a run-and-gun type franchise anyway. The guys came to me and said, ‘Ice, let’s get it done, man.’

We went out the first quarter, I missed my first six shots. Called timeout. I was saying, ‘Ah, man, that’s a lot of pressure, man.’ Those guys say, ‘You ain’t got to worry about that. Aw, Ice. C’mon, man.’ I was kiddin’ anyway. I wanted to make sure they were still with me.

We started back, I had 20 that quarter and then I ended up gettin’ 33 the second quarter. End up getting 63 in 33 minutes.

Gervin launched 49 shots that night in New Orleans, hitting 23 of them (“I was kind of rushing,” he said of the first six). He, too, shot 17 of 20 from the line. At 58 points, the scoring title was his. With 63, his average shot past Thompson’s to 26.2195 points.

The closest scoring races since then came in 2009-10, when Durant (rounded to 30.1) edged James (29.7) by .4358 ppg, and in 1993-94. That’s the year San Antonio’s David Robinson, trailing Shaquille O’Neal by 0.0467 points on the final day, scored a career-best 71 in a matinee against the Clippers. O’Neal got 32 for Orlando that night against New Jersey. He wound up losing the title by 0.4418 points (29.3456 to Robinson’s 29.7875), with the Big Runner-Up taking some swipes at the Clippers’ dispassionate defense of his San Antonio rival.

O’Neal might have been calmer had he known his NBA history. On the Spurs’ bench that afternoon, egging on The Admiral to chase down that crown: Assistant coach George Gervin.

Selling Collectibles Doesn’t Mean Down-And-Out For Thompson

Less memorabilia, more cash.

NBA legend David Thompson’s decision really was that simple. Fewer things to store or dust, more green, folding stuff to spend. And donate. And enjoy.

The cliché, of course, is that any former sports hero who looks to sell precious mementos from his playing days must be flat broke and down on his luck. Certainly, there have been examples of that among those who spent too freely, managed their athletic earnings poorly or got hit in the grill post-career by bad advice or worse luck.

But it isn’t the case for Oscar Robertson and Sam Jones, two other Hall of Fame legends, and it isn’t the case for Thompson either. All of them have made items available through SCP Auctions – as part of individual “collections” offered for bidding that ends Saturday – willfully, happily and driven by pragmatism rather than dire need.

“I’ve still got a lot of stuff from my N.C. State days,” said Thompson, the high-flier who played for the ABA and NBA Denver Nuggets and the Seattle SuperSonics in a pro career ended prematurely by injuries and drub abuse. “I’ve got a piece of the wood floor that was given to me when they retired my jersey. Also, I’m the only one to be MVP in the NBA and ABA All-Star games, so I’m keeping those trophies. As well as my Hall of Fame ring.

“I’ve still got enough around that I could do a couple more auctions if I wanted to.”

Thompson, 58, only dipped his toe in auction waters this time because some friends from his playing days had done so and were happy with the results.

“A lot of the other guys – like [George] Gervin and Bobby Jones and Julius [Erving], guys who played in my era – have been real successful and they thought the time would be right for me to put some of my stuff out.”

The stuff he has out there is fascinating: Forty-nine pieces in all, from an autographed scoresheet-plaque from his 73-point scoring outburst on April 9, 1978 (minimum bid: $100) to his 1974 NCAA championship ring (minimum: $5,000). As of Thursday evening, after 13 bids, the ring was up to $15,700.

Added together, it figures to be a nice payday for Thompson. But nothing to melodramatically save him and his loved ones from a steady diet of ramen noodles or anything.

“It’s been a long time since I got an NBA check,” he said. “But like most of the guys, I’m doing OK. I’m not making anywhere near what I did when I played. But I’m living within my means. We all can use money. We all have bills and whatever. Hopefully this will give me a little relief, and some can go to charity.”

Thompson works as a motivational speaker and makes appearances at sports camps. He receives an NBA pension, and he also does some youth ministry work “to help kids make the right choices, unlike some of the choices I made.”

He and his wife Cathy live in Charlotte, and they plan to make donations to the National Diabetes Association (Cathy lives with the disease) and to the Boys & Girls Clubs.

Thompson, by the way, remains a relevant player to today’s NBA stars. Though he too often gets skipped over when experts trace the game’s above-the-rim history from Elgin Baylor through Erving and Michael Jordan to the current generation, Thompson played into the 1980s. He’s younger than Erving and he actually met some of these millennials.

“I’ve had an opportunity to speak with a lot of guys on their high school teams,” Thompson said. “Jerry Stackhouse, Chris Paul, different guys, Carmelo [Anthony], I talked to all those guys. LeBron James‘ team, when they came through North Carolina, he said he used to wear my throwback jersey. So hopefully, he might want to get the real high school jersey.”

Could be. Thompson’s autographed No. 33 jersey from 1969-71 at Crest High School in Shelby, N.C., was fetching $3,993 as of Thursday evening.

NBA History From ‘Big O,’ Thompson, S. Jones Hits Auction Block

Sometimes a replica jersey and a flat-screen HDTV tuned to League Pass doesn’t quite scratch the itch – or fill up the available space on the mantel or wall – of a heavily NBA-themed “man cave.”

Here is a chance to dial up the street cred with some serious, museum-quality NBA history.

Basketball Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson, David Thompson and Sam Jones all have major mementoes of their marvelous careers on the block at SCP Auctions for an online offering that begins Nov. 14. Among the highlights from the Robertson, Thompson and Jones collection:

All items are from the players’ personal collections and are accompanied by signed letters of authenticity. Bidding (with minimum prices reflecting the exclusivity) opens to registered bidders on Nov. 14 and concludes Dec. 1. The auction will be conducted at SCPAuctions.com and also feature items from famed boxing trainer Angelo Dundee’s estate and MLB Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. The NBA players’ collectibles can be previewed here.