David Thompson, 73 points vs. Detroit Pistons on April 9, 1978
Live Auction: David Thompson Denver Nuggets Bobblehead NBA Basketball SGA Stadium Giveaway Lot
Buy It Now: $16.19, plus shipping
The professional career of Thompson was, in many ways, symptomatic of the era in which he played. Alcohol and drug abuse was rampant among basketball pros during the 1970s, and many suffered from debilitating addictions to these substances — Thompson included. As a consequence for such excess, the 6-4 guard never really lived up to the potential he displayed as a collegian at North Carolina State, averaging a respectable — albeit consistent — 22.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 3.3 APG in the NBA. But when “Skywalker” was on, boy, was he on.
Never was this more apparent than on April 6, 1978. Thompson entered the final game of the ’78 season against Detroit in a tight race with George Gervin for the league scoring title. Though not intending to score so much, Thompson got off to a hot start. He shot 13-of-14 from the field and 6-of-6 from the foul line, racking up 32 points in the first quarter. (His shooting performance in that first quarter still holds the NBA record for most field goals made in a quarter.) Thompson’s streak continued in the second period as he netted another 21 points (on 7-of-9 shooting), bringing his halftime total to 53 points.
During the break, his Denver Nuggets teammates apparently encouraged Thompson to shoot more in the second half in order to break Chamberlain’s single-game points record, but he declined. According to head coach Larry Brown, “He just wanted to play the game.”
The Pistons attempted to shut Thompson down for the rest of the game, sending double and triple-teams at him throughout. To their credit, the Pistons held him to 20 second-half points. Thompson’s 73-point total briefly put him ahead of Gervin in the scoring contest until The Iceman scored 63 points of his own later that day; ultimately edging Thompson out by .07 points. Still, Thompson’s performance that afternoon is one of the most impressive in NBA history, and ranks as the fourth most points scored by a player in a single NBA game (As Thompson later mused, imagine if he had the benefit of the three-point line?). Maybe more importantly, though, he has exercised his demons and is more than 20 years sober. NBA fans can commemorate his career with this Nuggets bobblehead.