Has Wilt Chamberlain used steroids

NBA - Skywalker vs. Iceman: The greatest point spectacle of all time

By the morning of April 9, 1978, the regular NBA season was almost over, with most teams mentally already in the offseason or playoffs. Not so for David "Skywalker" Thompson and George "The Iceman" Gervin. Within a few hours, the two Hall-of-Famers delivered two of the most spectacular individual performances in NBA history in a long-distance duel for the scoring crown.

This article first appeared on April 9, 2020.

"Do you want to win the title today?" David Thompson paused for a moment before answering a question from Head Coach Larry Brown a few hours before the Denver Nuggets' last regular season game in 1977-78.

"I told Coach Brown that I just want to play. Whatever happens, fate will decide," Thompson recalled in his book Skywalker on said morning. The playoffs already had the nuggets in their pockets and said title, the crown for the best scorer of the season, was not important to Thompson according to his own statement.

George Gervin led the league with 26.8 points per game before the last matchday, followed by the Nuggets Guard with 26.6 points. The two had little in common, both came in 1976 from the spectacular, but also brutal American Basketball Association (ABA) to the NBA and were immediately among the absolute superstars of the league.

Above all, in terms of play, they couldn't have been more different, and that's how the parallels ended. Except for this one experience that will connect you forever.

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David Thompson: The "Skywalker"

Thompson is considered to be one of the best athletes who have ever played basketball and the best jumper of his time (click here for the legendary story of David "Skywalker" Thompson). A time when Julius "Dr. J" Erving also played. Many contemporary witnesses claim that the 1.93 meter tall guard was able to pluck a coin from the top edge of the backboard.

That is not entirely unbelievable, after all, Thompson's jump height from the stand of 44 inches or a breathtaking 112 centimeters was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records at the time. Also, Thompson is believed to have invented the alley-oop dunk, even though dunks were banned from North Carolina State during his college career.

Thompson later received the greatest possible praise for a basketball player: Michael Jordan revealed during his career that he had avoided a few moves from Thompson. "The importance of vertical jumping only began with David Thompson," said MJ, who, like Thompson, grew up in North Carolina and became a superstar in college.

But the Skywalker was by no means limited to his athleticism, he was also a very good shooter. Even before the introduction of the line of three in 1979, Thompson regularly took throws from a long distance and, in combination with his physical superiority, was hardly defensible.

George Gervin: "The Iceman"

The same was said for many years about Gervin, who however played completely differently. With a height of 2.03 meters he was very tall for a guard at the time, but not a good athlete and built very thin. His jump shot also looked rather shaky (click here for the legendary story of George Gervin).

But Gervin convinced with perfected movements, clever throwing selection and pure efficiency, as his career field throwing rate of 50.4 percent shows. The iceman is known as an expert in finger roll and for hitting it from the free-throw line or from behind the board.

However, his nickname caused confusion even then. Gervin got the name "The Iceman" from his then teammates Julius Erving and Fatty Taylor, "Because I never sweated," Erving later revealed. "I weighed 150 pounds with no water in me. People thought I was 'Ice' because I was cool. Nope. It was because I was thin."

Gervin was so feared as the dominant scorer that the Indiana Pacers once promised free chicken for all fans if the team could keep Gervin below 30 points. For this they had specially appointed Dudley Bradley, the "Secretary of Defense", but Gervin scored 55 points and the fans were left empty-handed.

"You can't defend him. You can just hope that his arm will slowly go limp after 40 throws," complained long-time NBA coach Dick Motta at the time. "I think the guy can always score when he feels like it. You wonder if he's not getting bored."

David Thompson and George Gervin in comparison

GamesFG%FT%ReboundsAssistsBlocksStealsPoints
David Thompson50950,4 %77,9 %4,33,40,91,124,1
George Gervin79151,1 %84,4 %4,62,80,81,226,2

"Like Superman on Steroids"

Certainly none of the just 3,482 fans in the Cobo Arena felt bored on said April day when the Detroit Pistons received the Denver Nuggets. Both teams had already reached the playoffs, and probably nobody expected a big spectacle. But exactly this spectacle was not long in coming.

Because Thompson, who had one of the best seasons of his career and was elected to the All-NBA First Team, had scored only 14 points less in the 81 games played than Gervin, also a member of the All-NBA First Team. And his start in the last game of the season in no way said that the title of best scorer was unimportant to him.

Thompson scored 32 points in the first quarter, breaking Wilt Chamberlain's record of 31 points in one period. 20 of his first 21 throws found the target, at halftime the Skywalker had 53 points. "I felt like Superman on steroids," the Skywalker later recalled in his book of the same name, but the feeling should change in the second half.

Even before the break, Thompson had seen the increasing fear of the opponents, the expressions on their faces telling him, "We can't let this guy get 100 points." The Pistons were determined to stop Thompson in the second half, with two, three or even four defenders. "I felt like a rat in a cage," he later described the situation.

The team from Motor City was able to keep Thompson away from the 100-point mark and even win the game with 139: 137, but the star of the Nuggets had collected a total of 73 points by the end of the game. He welded 32 of his 38 throws from the field through the trap, and sank 17 of 20 free throws.

After Thompson's explosion of points, Gervin needed 59 points to return to the top of the scorer list.