- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

When David Thompson was tearing up N.C. State’s basketball opponents in the early ‘70s, he was known for his impeccable timing — particularly on those dramatic alley-oop passes from tiny point guard Monte Towe. The same can’t be said for his autobiography.

With the dubious help of ghostwriters Sean Stormes and Marshall Terrill, he has published “David Thompson: Skywalker” ($22.95, Sports Publishing LLC, 276 pages, illus.) The question is why anybody would bother to buy or read it 28 years after his last college game and 19 after his final pro appearance.

True, Thompson remains the greatest player in ACC history — remember, Michael Jordan was only a mini-star at North Carolina — and averaged better than 20 points a game for the Denver Nuggets in both the ABA and NBA before age, injuries and drug dependency caught up with him. But three decades after he first burst onto the national sports scene, too many other superstars have come and gone to make his story compelling.

Yes, he licked his longtime addictions to alcohol and cocaine, and for that he deserves immense credit. Yet it is a sad sign of the times that it no longer astounds or perhaps even interests us to read that our athletic heroes have swallowed or sniffed their way to disaster.

Throughout the book, the ghosts seem to forget that Thompson was not considered particularly articulate when he played. Though we may assume he is more sophisticated in his late 40s than in his early 20s — after all, Thompson earns his bread now as a motivational speaker — it strains credibility when he writes things like “give me a ball and a hoop, and I was just as happy as Einstein with a new theorem.”

He describes as “ticky-tacky stuff” the violations in his recruitment that led to N.C. State being placed on probation during the 1972-73 season, when the Wolfpack went 27-0. (The following season, they were 30-1 and finally won the NCAA championship, ending a run of seven straight by UCLA.)

Thompson also claims breathlessly (“are you sitting down?”) that a college roommate of North Carolina assistant coach Bill Guthridge conducted the NCAA investigation that led to the sanctions against State. But he weakens his own scoop, if that’s what it is, by referring to the man only as “Mr. X.”

Of some interest to local fans might be Thompson’s accounts of the epic battles between N.C. State and Maryland, including the Wolfpack’s famous 103-100 overtime victory in the 1974 ACC tournament that cost a superb Terrapins team a trip to the NCAA tournament. He thanks Maryland “for pushing us so hard” all season and describes as “one of the classiest acts I ever witnessed” a startling postgame appearance on the N.C. State team bus by Maryland coach Lefty Driesell to offer congratulations.

Overall, however, the book contains too much play-by-play of the “in our next game …” variety. Do we really need to know laborious details of practically ancient contests against Clemson in the ACC or the San Diego Sails in the NBA?

Thompson says he first tried cocaine when it was offered by a Nuggets teammate in a hotel room during the 1976 ABA Finals. The last part of the book deals, agonizingly, with his attempts to kick the habit. He finally did so 11 years later after he and a pastor friend began to read the Bible. “I felt a rush come over me and then a calm quickly took its place,” he says.

Good for him, but the belated book does nothing to restore the glow he once created on the basketball court.

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