Back by popular demand!
Well, not really. It’s just that this arguably is my favorite single-day ‘event’ in the history of NBA hoops — and such a mind-boggling and cool thing that, well …
… If ever there was a time when I wish the days of yesteryear had all of today’s electronic gadgetry and virtually non-stop coverage of sporting events, it would have been 40 years ago — April 9, 1978, to be exact.
On that Sunday, two of the most explosive scorers in basketball history hooked up in a long-distance scoring duel that has never been equaled.
David Thompson, a star on the Denver Nuggets in both the NBA and ABA, and George Gervin, a scoring machine for the San Antonio Spurs in both leagues, entered the final day of the 1977-78 season with Gervin leading Thompson in the scoring race by 0.2 points per game — 26.8 to 26.6.
In an afternoon game at Detroit, Thompson scored 73 points against the Pistons but it wasn’t enough as Detroit won, 139-137.
Several hours later, Gervin didn’t score quite that much, but still racked up 63 points in a 153-132 loss to the New Orleans Jazz.
In the closest scoring race in NBA history, ‘The Iceman’ edged ‘Skywalker’ for the scoring crown, 27.22 points per game to 27.15.
Thompson, who led North Carolina State to the 1974 NCAA championship, made 13-of-14 shots and all 6 of his free throws in the first quarter to score 32 points, and tallied 21 more in the second stanza to amass 53 points by halftime.
Thompson cooled off in the second half, making 8-of-15 shots to score 20 points. His shooting stats for the day: 28-for-38 from the floor, 17-of-20 free throws, 73 points.
“Whether we won or lost, we were still headed for the playoffs. So coach (Larry Brown) was willing to let me shoot to my heart’s content to win the NBA scoring title,” Thompson said in his 2003 book ‘Skywalker.’
“I was definitely in the zone; I felt like Superman on steroids. There wasn’t a shot I put up that I didn’t think — as soon as it left my hands — would go anywhere but in the hoop.”
Gervin said he was taking a nap in his hotel room when a Spurs beat reporter called him on the phone to tell him Thompson had scored 73 points.
“I said, ‘Well, that’s it,’ and I hung up and went back to sleep,” Gervin told George Vecsey of the New York Times during a 1996 interview.
“Down in the lobby later, some of the guys on the Spurs said, ‘Ice, we’re going to help you.’ … They kept giving me the ball and early in the game I couldn’t put the ball in the basket, but after awhile I got going.”
After missing his first 6 shots, Gervin thought he had no chance at scoring the 58 points he needed to win the title.
However, the Eastern Michigan product caught fire, scoring 20 points in the first quarter and a then-record 33 in the second.
The 4-time NBA scoring champ finished with 63 points in just 33 minutes. He made 23-of-49 field goals and 17-of-20 foul shots.
“I would only have agreed to do it if all 11 of my teammates had approved,” Gervin told the Rocky Mountain News. “… 58 points was a hell of a task, but I was confident I could do it.”
One of Gervin’s teammates on the 1977-78 Spurs was former Southport High School, University of Kentucky and Kentucky Colonels ABA standout Louie Dampier.
A teammate of Thompson’s on Denver was former Anderson Madison Heights and Indiana University star Bobby Wilkerson.
Gervin averaged 25.1 points during his 15-year, 1,060-game career.
A 5-time All-Star, Thompson, whose career was curtailed by a severe knee injury and addiction to cocaine, averaged 22.7 points in 592 games over 9 seasons.
Gervin and Thompson were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996.