Denver Nuggets A to Z: David Thompson

The Skywalker helped put the Mile High City on the basketball map
by Aaron Lopez
Nuggets.com

When discussing the greatest players to wear a Denver Nuggets uniform, the conversation inevitably comes down to a handful of names.

David Thompson is always among them.

As we continue an A-to-Z look at the most memorable and notable players in franchise history, T is unequivocally for Thompson.

Nicknamed as the Skywalker for his 44-inch vertical leap, Thompson helped put Denver basketball on the map when he and Julius Erving squared off in the inaugural slam dunk contest at the 1976 ABA All-Star Game at McNichols Arena.

Erving won the contest, but Thompson walked away with MVP honors after scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to lead the Nuggets to a victory against an All-Star team led by Erving, George Gervin and Artis Gilmore.

Behind Thompson’s high-flying play, the Nuggets later advanced to the 1976 ABA Finals before falling to Erving and the New York Nets in six games.

The Nuggets joined the NBA the following season, and Thompson continued to soar. He led Denver in scoring four times in a five-year span from 1976-81 and made three All-Star appearances during that stretch.

In seven seasons in Denver, Thompson averaged 24.1 points while helping the Nuggets reach the playoffs five times. When he was traded to the Seattle SuperSonics on June, 16, 1982, Thompson ranked second only to Dan Issel on Denver’s career scoring list (11,992).

A knee injury forced Thompson into retirement after only two seasons with the Sonics. He became the third player in Nuggets history to have his jersey retired when the team raised his No. 33 to the rafters on Nov. 2, 1992.

Thompson was inducted to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996 and stayed active in retirement by conducting basketball clinics in his native North Carolina. He also returns to Denver periodically to attend Nuggets games at Pepsi Center.

“To see where Denver was then and where it is now … it’s amazing to see the growth,” Thompson said in an interview with Nuggets.com in 2011. “It was a booming city (in 1975) and beginning to turn into the great city it is today.”

The Skywalker was a part of basketball’s tremendous growth at that time and he will always be considered a Denver hoops pioneer.

Game to remember, April 9, 1978

Chasing Gervin for the league scoring title, Thompson made 20 of his first 21 shots and scored 53 points in the first half of Denver’s season finale against the Detroit Pistons at Cobo Arena. Thompson set an NBA record with 32 points in the first quarter and finished with a franchise-record 73 for the game.

Playing later that night, Gervin knew he needed 58 points to overtake Thompson. He scored 33 in the first quarter to break Thompson’s hours-old mark and finished with 63 to capture the scoring crown 27.22 to 27.15. It was the closest scoring race in NBA history.