Battle of ’78: Fire, Ice and the Scoring Title

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 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 (final game before move to Silverdome)

FIRST QUARTER
THOMPSON +18

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.

HALFTIME
THOMPSON +39

By halftime he had 53 points and then Detroit began increasing its defensive pressure to prevent a 100 point game.

FINISH
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

FIRST QUARTER
GERVIN -39

Gervin started the game by missing his first six shots, but would finish the quarter with 20  points.

HALFTIME
GERVIN  -6

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.

FINISH
GERVIN +4

Gervin scored 10 points in the third quarter to reach  to to 63 points before sitting out the last 3 minutes and all of the 4th.
63 points on 33 minute gave him a 27.22 scoring average and his first scoring title.

EPILOGUE

skywalkerGervin 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

Position: Guard-Forward

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

Season Age Tm Lg Pos G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1972-73 20 VIR ABA SG 30 23.0 5.4 11.4 .472 0.2 0.9 .231 3.2 3.9 .814 1.1 3.1 4.3 1.1 1.8 2.4 14.1
1973-74 21 TOT ABA SG-SF 74 33.9 9.1 19.3 .471 0.1 0.8 .143 5.1 6.3 .815 2.3 6.1 8.4 1.9 1.4 1.6 3.4 3.6 23.4
1973-74 21 VIR ABA SG 49 35.3 9.9 21.0 .472 0.2 1.0 .160 5.3 6.7 .799 2.2 6.3 8.5 2.0 1.5 1.8 3.8 3.4 25.4
1973-74 21 SAA ABA SF 25 31.3 7.4 15.8 .468 0.0 0.2 .000 4.6 5.4 .853 2.5 5.8 8.2 1.8 1.0 1.4 2.6 3.9 19.4
1974-75 22 SAA ABA SF 84 37.1 9.3 19.7 .474 0.2 0.7 .309 4.5 5.5 .830 2.9 5.4 8.3 2.5 1.6 1.6 3.0 3.5 23.4
1975-76 23 SAA ABA SF 81 33.9 8.7 17.5 .499 0.2 0.7 .255 4.2 4.9 .857 2.2 4.5 6.7 2.5 1.4 1.5 2.7 3.6 21.8
1976-77 24 SAS NBA SF 82 33.0 8.9 16.3 .544 5.4 6.5 .833 1.6 3.9 5.5 2.9 1.3 1.3 3.5 23.1
1977-78 25 SAS NBA SG 82   34.8 10.5 19.6 .536       6.1 7.4 .830 1.4 3.7 5.1 3.7 1.7 1.3 3.7 3.1 27.2
1978-79 26 SAS NBA SF 80 36.1 11.8 21.9 .541 5.9 7.1 .826 1.8 3.2 5.0 2.7 1.7 1.1 3.6 3.4 29.6
1979-80 27 SAS NBA SG 78 37.6 13.1 24.9 .528 0.4 1.3 .314 6.5 7.6 .852 2.0 3.2 5.2 2.6 1.4 1.0 3.3 2.7 33.1
1980-81 28 SAS NBA SG 82 33.7 10.4 21.1 .492 0.1 0.4 .257 6.2 7.6 .826 1.5 3.6 5.1 3.2 1.1 0.7 3.1 2.6 27.1
1981-82 29 SAS NBA SG 79 79 35.7 12.6 25.2 .500 0.1 0.5 .278 7.0 8.1 .864 1.7 3.2 5.0 2.4 1.0 0.6 2.7 2.7 32.3
1982-83 30 SAS NBA SG 78 78 36.3 9.7 19.9 .487 0.2 0.4 .364 6.6 7.8 .853 1.4 3.2 4.6 3.4 1.1 0.9 3.2 3.1 26.2
1983-84 31 SAS NBA SG 76 76 34.0 10.1 20.5 .490 0.1 0.3 .417 5.6 6.7 .842 1.4 2.7 4.1 2.9 1.0 0.6 2.9 2.9 25.9
1984-85 32 SAS NBA SG 72 69 29.0 8.3 16.4 .508 0.0 0.1 .000 4.5 5.3 .844 1.1 2.2 3.3 2.5 0.9 0.7 2.8 2.9 21.2
1985-86 33 CHI NBA SG 82 75 25.2 6.3 13.4 .472 0.0 0.2 .211 3.5 3.9 .879 1.0 1.7 2.6 1.8 0.6 0.3 2.0 2.6 16.2
Career TOT 1060 377 33.6 9.8 19.4 .504 0.1 0.6 .271 5.4 6.4 .841 1.7 3.6 5.3 2.6 1.2 1.0 3.0 3.1 25.1
NBA 791 377 33.5 10.2 19.9 .511 0.1 0.5 .297 5.7 6.8 .844 1.5 3.1 4.6 2.8 1.2 0.8 3.0 2.9 26.2
ABA 269 33.7 8.6 18.0 .480 0.2 0.7 .234 4.4 5.3 .831 2.3 5.1 7.4 2.2 1.4 1.6 2.9 3.4 21.9
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/14/2013.
  • 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

Season Age Tm Lg Pos G MP FG FGA FG% 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1975-76 21 DNA ABA SF 83 37.4 9.7 18.9 .515 0.2 .158 6.5 8.2 .794 2.7 3.6 6.3 3.7 1.6 1.2 3.0 3.4 26.0
1976-77 22 DEN NBA SG 82 36.6 10.0 19.8 .507 5.8 7.6 .766 1.7 2.4 4.1 4.1 1.4 0.6 2.9 25.9
1977-78 23 DEN NBA SG 80 37.8 10.3 19.8 .521     6.5 8.4 .778 2.0 2.9 4.9 4.5 1.2 1.2 3.1 2.7 27.2
1978-79 24 DEN NBA SG 76 35.1 9.1 17.8 .512 5.8 7.7 .753 1.4 2.2 3.6 3.0 0.9 1.1 2.4 2.4 24.0
1979-80 25 DEN NBA SG 39 31.8 7.4 15.8 .468 0.5 .368 6.5 8.6 .758 1.4 3.0 4.5 3.2 1.0 1.0 3.0 2.7 21.5
1980-81 26 DEN NBA SG 77 34.0 9.5 18.8 .506 0.5 .256 6.4 8.0 .795 1.4 2.3 3.7 3.0 0.7 0.8 3.2 3.0 25.5
1981-82 27 DEN NBA SG 61 20.4 5.1 10.6 .486 0.2 .286 4.5 5.6 .814 0.9 1.5 2.4 1.9 0.6 0.5 2.3 2.4 14.9
1982-83 28 SEA NBA SG 75 28.7 5.9 12.3 .481 0.1 .200 4.0 5.1 .784 1.3 2.3 3.6 3.0 0.6 0.4 2.2 1.9 15.9
1983-84 29 SEA NBA SG 19 18.4 4.7 8.7 .539 0.1 .000 3.3 3.8 .849 0.9 1.4 2.3 0.7 0.5 0.7 1.4 1.6 12.6
Career TOT 592 32.8 8.5 16.8 .505 0.3 .255 5.7 7.3 .781 1.6 2.5 4.1 3.3 1.0 0.9 2.7 2.7 22.7
NBA 509 32.0 8.3 16.4 .504 0.3 .277 5.5 7.1 .778 1.4 2.3 3.8 3.2 0.9 0.8 2.6 2.5 22.1
ABA 83 37.4 9.7 18.9 .515 0.2 .158 6.5 8.2 .794 2.7 3.6 6.3 3.7 1.6 1.2 3.0 3.4 26.0
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/14/2013.

ABA/NBA highlights

  • 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 half time 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)
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