Not five years before his beatific smile landed on the cover of
SI, Chris Thomforde was a string bean of a kid who, if he
couldn't be a wide receiver for Vince Lombardi, wanted to be a
missionary for the Lutheran church. But then Thomforde sprouted
to 6'9", developed a sweet shooting touch and became a basketball
All-America at Long Island Lutheran High in Brookville, N.Y. When
Thomforde was a senior in 1964-65, it took a member of
Princeton's Fellowship of Christian Athletes--Bill Bradley--to
persuade him to continue his hoops career as a Tiger.
"God gives us special skills, and mine was basketball," says
Thomforde. "I had a responsibility to develop that talent." Along
with senior point guard Gary Walters--now Princeton's athletic
director--Thomforde as a sophomore took this mission to the 1967
Eastern Regional semifinal, in which Princeton lost in OT to
eventual NCAA runner-up North Carolina. His senior season
Thomforde, as part of a frontcourt trinity with juniors and
future NBA first-round draft choices Geoff Petrie (now VP of
Basketball Operations of the Sacramento Kings) and John Hummer (a
leading Silicon Valley venture capitalist), took the Tigers back
to the NCAAs, where they suffered a first-round defeat. Before
going on to Yale's divinity school, Thomforde was invited to the
New York Knicks' rookie camp and was cut. "I was told that I
would better serve the world as a pastor than a Knickerbocker,"
he says with a laugh. "They were right."
Thomforde, who used to pray not for a win but that no one would
get hurt, serves as Princeton basketball's informal chaplain.
While he and his wife, Christine, have settled in the
advent-calendar town of Lindborg, Kans., where Thomforde is
pastor and president of Bethany College, former teammates still
call on him for spiritual counsel. Among his flock is his former
coach Pete Carril--who once, during a sloppy game against Harvard,
screeched to his mild-mannered center, "How can there be a God
when people play this way?"
Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown, an assistant on the North
Carolina team that sent Princeton packing in 1967, recently asked
Thomforde if he misses the game. "I had to say no," says
Thomforde, apologizing in advance for sounding like Jimmy
Stewart. "Playing in the NCAA tournament was exciting, but to be
present when someone is entering marriage or leaving this
world--that has made for a blessed life."
January 31, 2000