Celebrating the Greatness of David Thompson

Brett Friedlander

Some of the greatest basketball players in history, including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, grew up wanting to "be like Mike."

But do you know who Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest of them all, grew up wanting to be like?

David Thompson, that's who.

NC State might have been a rival once Jordan went to college at North Carolina, but before he took to the Air with the Tar Heels, Jordan pattered his game after the original Skywalker.

He though so highly of Thompson that when he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, he invited his boyhood hero to be his presenter.

"As I grew up in North Carolina, I was 11 years old in 1974 when (the Wolfpack) won the championship," Jordan said in his induction speech. "And I was in love with David Thompson."

On the occasion of Thompson's 66th birthday, here's a reminder of why the former Wolfpack star is considered to be the best player in ACC history -- even in the opinion of the player who went on to become best in NBA history.

For those too young to have seen him play in person, here's a brief introduction to Thompson's greatness.

First the numbers:

Thompson holds State records for most points in a game (57) and a season (838) while posting the highest career scoring average in school history at 26.8. His 2,309 career points are second only to Rodney Monroe's 2,551.-- and Thompson played one fewer season, since freshmen weren't eligible when he played.

Though only 6-foot-4, he was the ACC's first above-the-rim player, who along with point guard Monte Towe, perfected the alley oop as his signature move. 

Even though NCAA rules prohibited dunking at the time.

In fact, Thompson only dunked once in his NC State career. It happened on Senior Day, in his final home game at Reynolds Coliseum. With outcome already decided, Thompson took a length-of-the court pass and flushed it home.

He was called for a technical foul, but got a standing ovation for his effort.

Thompson was the National Player of the Year in 1974 and '75 and a consensus All-American in all three of his college seasons. He as the ACC's Athlete of the Year twice and the Final Four Most Outstanding Player in leading the Wolfpack to its first national championship.

The Wolfpack went 79-9 with him in the lineup.

He was so good that he was the No. 1 overall draft pick in two different leagues -- taken by the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and the ABA's Denver Nuggets. He won the ABA's inaugral slam dunk contest and once the leagues merged, went on to become a four-time NBA all-star with the Nuggets.

The final testament to his greatness is that for all the outstanding Wolfpack players that have come and gone before and since, Thompson's No. 44 is still the only one ever retired by the school.

So happy birthday, Skywalker. And thanks for the memories!

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