David Thompson first appeared on our cover in 1973 as a shy kid
from rural North Carolina with an astounding vertical leap and
the potential to dethrone college basketball's reigning power.
He was then the star junior forward for North Carolina
State--the team with the best chance of preventing UCLA from
winning an eighth consecutive national title.
The Wolfpack pulled off the feat in a thrilling double-overtime,
come-from-behind victory against the Bill Walton-led Bruins in
the '74 NCAA semifinals. "Though I played a lot of years in the
NBA, I never had the opportunity to win a championship there,"
says Thompson, 44. "Beating UCLA is my Number 1 highlight in
sports. We beat Marquette in the finals, but nobody seems to
Certainly memorable was Thompson's remarkable nine-year pro
career in Denver and Seattle. In the 1977-78 season he and San
Antonio's George Gervin engaged in the NBA's tightest and most
famous scoring-title battle. On the final day of the season,
against Detroit, Thompson scored 73 points, but it wasn't good
enough to beat Gervin, who, knowing he had to score 58 to win,
came through with 63 against the New Orleans Jazz later that
Thompson's career came to an end in 1984, when he fell down a
flight of stairs at New York's Studio 54, destroying his left
knee. From there, he fell deeper into the cocaine and alcohol
addictions he had developed in the previous few years. In 1986
he filed for bankruptcy and served 180 days in jail for
violating probation on a domestic-abuse charge. It was in jail
that he dedicated himself to Christianity and stopped using
drugs and alcohol.
After his release Thompson, who says he has been clean and sober
for more than a decade, worked as a community relations director
for the Charlotte Hornets. These days, when he's not traveling
the country as a motivational speaker, he's running clinics for
the Junior Hornets basketball program. The 1996 Hall of Fame
inductee lives in Charlotte with Cathy, his wife of 20 years,
and their two daughters, Erika, 19, and Brooke, 17.
"They've been a joy in my life," says Thompson of his children.
"I wanted to work things out partly for my sake, but it was
mostly for my kids. I think my influence on them in the past 10
years has been real positive."
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND Knocking off UCLA, he says, was the No. 1 highlight in a career full of them. [David Thompson holding basketball]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN D. HANLON [Cover of November 26, 1973 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED magazine featuringDavid Thompson]