By Tim Nash
David Thompson is sitting behind a desk the Greensboro Swarm offices, just down the street from the Coliseum, the site of two of the greatest college basketball games ever played.
And the reason those games are ranked among the all-time greats, is because David Thompson played in them.
He scored 29 points in what is considered the greatest ACC basketball game ever played — NC State’s 103-100 double-overtime win over Maryland in the 1974 conference championship in the Greensboro Coliseum. Two weeks later in the Coliseum, he scored 28 points in the NCAA semifinals to help the Wolfpack end UCLA’s seven-year hold on the NCAA title. He scored 21 points when the Pack defeated Marquette in the ’74 NCAA championship game.
“It’s always great to come back to Greensboro,” said Thompson, who is in town in his role as an NBA Ambassador to promote the Charlotte Hornets’ G-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm.
“Every time I come to Greensboro, it brings back all the great memories of times when I played at North Carolina State – the ACC Championship, the NCAA Championship, the UCLA game. Those were the highlights of my career, and they were here in Greensboro, so I love this city.”
Thompson, they say, was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan was. Vertical leaps got little attention until Thompson put his 48-inch leap in display at NC State, and he and Wolfpack guard Monte Towe are credited with inventing the Alley-opp.
During his playing days, there was nothing like a Developmental League for young NBA players.
“When I was playing, guys were coming into the league younger and younger,” he said. “A lot of them weren’t really ready to jump right into the league and get in games.
“One the NBA season starts, there’s very little practice time and very little scrimmage time because the games come quickly. So, the guys not getting any playing time can really get out of shape sitting at the end of the bench.”
The G-League, Thompson said, is filling that gap.
“It takes some players a couple years to develop their skills,” he said. “Here, they get some playing time on the court, and work in same system as the parent team.”
Of the 30 NBA teams, 26 have direct affiliates in the G-League. The NBA is working toward the G-League being a true farm system and feeder league for the NBA.
“Having an off-shoot like the Swarm as a farm club of the Hornets in Greensboro is great to see,” he said.
“I think it is on the right track. If we can get more fan support, maybe the salaries can escalate and more guys will want to play in the G-League instead of going overseas.”
Fan support is what Thompson is working on during this trip to Greensboro.
Fans of the ACC are all good knowledgeable basketball fans, and if they want to see good basketball they should come to Swarm games,” he said. “They might see some guys they saw play in the ACC, and they might see a future NBA All-Star.
“This particular franchise has some great local talent, and they are all good people. You have guys like Marcus Paige from UNC and Cat Barber from NC State. Fans are familiar with them and they want to see how they are doing. I think ACC fans will gravitate to a team like the Swarm.”
A native of Shelby who went to school in Raleigh and lives in Charlotte, Thompson knows all about ACC fans.
“Back when I grew up, you didn’t get any NBA games on TV,” he said. “You might get an ABA game now and then, but you got ACC games.
“The Big Four was it – State, Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina. My goal as a kid was to play in the ACC. Believe it or not, my idol as a kid was Charles Scott at North Carolina. I was a North Carolina fan until I learned better, until I wised up.”
At 63, Thompson has plenty of wise advice to offer G-League players, things he learned from NBA veterans, or Old Heads, as they were called.
“Playing in the NBA is a privilege, and you don’t want to do anything that will jeopardize that,” he said.
After a day of promoting the Swarm and being reminded of the highlights of his career, Thompson watched the Swarm play the Northern Arizona Suns, teams full of players hoping for that privilege.