November 26, 1973
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 remember that."
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-tide 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 night.
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."