What do Michael Jordan, JJ Redick, Jerry West, David Thompson, and Ray Allen have in common? College basketball analyst and Lord of Listicles John Whitaker released his top shooting guards in men’s college basketball history last week, and whittled his top five to that group. Unfortunately, his top five is a confusing Rubik’s Cube. BigGameBoomer’s attempt to take on this gargantuan task is laudable, and although his effort is appreciated, he put some questionable takes onto Hoops Twitter that cannot go unchallenged.
Chief among those missteps is his proclamation of Michael Jordan as the greatest shooting guard in college basketball history. Jordan eventually became the GOAT, but he’s not even the best college shooting guard from a North Carolina school. NBA careers are where legacies and propaganda are often cemented, but within the confines of amateur basketball, Jordan looks up to one man. If you think I’m referring to JJ Redick (who is third on BigGameBoomer’s ranking) based on that description, I need you to reassess everything about your life. And if Redick himself sees this, hopefully he doesn’t add it to his list of grievances, but the GOAT of shooting guards is David Thompson — and it’s not particularly close.
No one doubts that Jordan’s resume in three years at UNC was sublime. Hitting the game-winning shot in the national championship as a freshman gives Jordan a leg up over Thompson, who landed at NC State a year before the NCAA modified its rules on freshman eligibility and didn’t log a single D1 minute.
MJ’s 17.7 points per game on 54 percent shooting, 5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per contest — along with two mentions on the All-American Team and a Naismith National Player of the Year Award as a junior — propelled him toward his deific NBA tenure, but Thompson was mythical during his NC State career.
Even without a freshman season, “Skywalker Thompson” left his mark as an ethereal talent and nonpareil athlete from the minute he touched the court and he quickly made up for lost time. In three seasons, Thompson logged 27 points per game on 55 percent shooting and nabbed 8.1 rebounds as a 6-foot-4 guard.
In his first year of eligibility, Thompson carried an NC State team that had registered 29 wins and 24 losses in the two seasons prior to an undefeated 27-0 season, but he was prevented from participating in the tournament due to violations the Wolfpack committed during his recruitment.
No matter, Thompson went about proving he was Him in his junior season by spearheading a 30-1 season that produced in NC State’s first national championship and left no doubt about his place in college basketball lore.
Thompson’s seminal moment occurred in the Final Four, when he scored 28 to end John Wooden’s streak of seven consecutive national championships and swatted three-time National Player of the Year Bill Walton’s shot back to Westwood early in the first half to set the tone. Thompson was a doorstop to the 6-foot-11 Walton, but per usual his 44-inch vertical leap was the great equalizer. Thompson’s encore performance resulted in him earning the 1975 Naismith Player of the Year award before getting drafted first overall in that year’s ABA Draft.
The most devastating aspect of Thompson’s underrated career wasn’t even that he was prevented from playing as a freshman like MJ. It’s that the “Lew Alcindor rule”, which banned dunking, was in place until 1976, well after Thompson exhausted his college eligibility. Even with those restrictions in place, Thompson and NC State point guard Monte Towe are often credited with inventing the alley-oop. The NCAA’s archaic rules, and Thompson’s unique ability, necessitated the innovation. Towe would simply throw it up where Thompson would catch the pass, contort his body in mid-air, and drop it into the cylinder without grazing the tin.
Thompson never dunked until his final game, when he sent a message to the NCAA by racing out in transition to flush his first and only dunk as a college player and was promptly awarded a technical foul for his crimes against gravity.
But Thompson was more than just a leaper, and as if placing him behind Jordan wasn’t bad enough, considering Jerry West and JJ Redick ahead of Thompson is perverse. West had a great college career, but the bar is high and he wasn’t on Thompson’s level, nor even MJ’s. Meanwhile, Redick ended his Duke career as ACC’s all-time leading scorer, but Thompson trails him by 460 points despite playing 53 fewer games.
There’s a reason Thompson was asked by Michael Jordan to introduce him for his 2009 induction into the college basketball Hall of Fame. Sporting News called Jordan the next Dr. J., but as far as college greatness goes, he and his ilk will always look up at David Thompson.