On the last day of the season in 1978, CBS sent their crew to Boston Garden to cover John Havlicek’s last game, when the real history would take place in Detroit and New Orleans. The closest battle for the scoring title ever was down to the last game and 14 points separated scoring leader San Antonio’s George “Iceman” Gervin and Denver’s David “Skywalker” Thompson who was on fire.
To their credit, neither player sought the scoring title that day, as their coaches and teammates made it their mission. If their combined 136-point duel were not amazing enough, remember that it occurred two seasons before the league introduced the 3-point basket.
ACT 1: DENVER v DETROIT
Scene: Detroit Cobo Arena
The first place Nuggets (47-34) finished their season against fourth-place Detroit (38-43) in what was the final game at Cobo Arena, as the Pistons would play in the Pontiac Silverdome the next season.
Thompson hits 13 field goals and scores 32 points in the first quarter – breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s record for points in a quarter from the fourth quarter of his 100 point game in 1962. He has now moved into the scoring lead.
By halftime, he had 53 points and then Detroit began increasing its defensive pressure to prevent a 100 point game.
THOMPSON + 59
Thompson finished with 73 points – the most ever by a guard and second only to Wilt’s 100. This put him in first place for the scoring title with a 27.15 average.
ACT 2: SAN ANTONIO v NEW ORLEANS
Scene: New Orleans Superdome
The first place Spurs (51-30) closed their season against a mediocre New Orleans Jazz team (39-42) led by Pistol Pete Maravich.
Gervin started the game by missing his first six shots but would finish the quarter with 20 points.
Gervin scored 33 points in the 2nd quarter to break Thompson’s record for points in a quarter only hours after it had been set. He now had 53 points.
Gervin scored 10 points in the third quarter to reach 63 points before sitting out the last 3 minutes and all of the 4th. Gervin’s 63 points on 33-minutes were enough to give him a 27.22 scoring average and his first scoring title.
Gervin would win four scoring titles – 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1982. Prior to Michael Jordan, Gervin had the most scoring titles of any guard in league history. Jordan (10) and Allen Iverson (4) are the only players since then to reach or exceed four titles.
- After the season, Thompson signed a then-record $4 million contract over 5 years. The remainder of his career would be plagued by injuries and substance abuse, culminating in a career-ending injury at New York’s famed disco “Studio 54”.
- The two players would meet again 18 years later in Springfield, Massachusetts when they both were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
- A documentary about Thompson was released in 2004
George Gervin’s Career Stats
Height: 6-7 ▪ Weight: 180 lbs.
College: Eastern Michigan University
Draft: Phoenix Suns, 3rd round (4th pick, 40th overall), 1974 NBA Draft
NBA Debut: October 22, 1976 ▪ ABA Debut: January 26, 1973
Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 1996
- 9× NBA All-Star (1977–1985)
- 3× ABA All-Star (1974–1976)
- NBA All-Star Game MVP (1980)
- 4× NBA scoring champion (1978–1980, 1982)
- 5× All-NBA First Team (1978–1982)
- 2× All-NBA Second Team (1977, 1983)
- 2× All-ABA Second Team (1975–1976)
- ABA All-Rookie First Team (1973)
- ABA All-Time Team
- NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team
- #44 Retired by the San Antonio Spurs
David Thompson Career Stats
David O’Neil Thompson
Position: Guard-Forward ▪
Height: 6-4 ▪ Weight: 195 lbs.
College: North Carolina State University
Draft: Atlanta Hawks, 1st round (1st pick, 1st overall),1975 NBA Draft
NBA Debut: October 22, 1976 ▪ ABA Debut: October 24, 1975
Hall of Fame: Inducted as Player in 1996
- The Sporting News ABA Rookie of the Year (1976)
- ABA Rookie of the Year (1976)
- All-ABA (1976)
- MVP, 1976 ABA All-Star Game
- Competed in first ever slam dunk contest during halftime of the 1976 ABA All-Star Game, eventually taking second to Julius Erving
- All-NBA First Team (1977, 1978)
- Four-time NBA All-Star
- MVP, 1979 NBA All-Star Game
- Only player in history named MVP of both the ABA and NBA All-Star Games
- The Nuggets retired his jersey number 33 (Nov. 2, 1992)