Skip to main content

New Statue Honors NC State Basketball Great

The newest statue outside of Reynolds Coliseum honors former men's basketball standout and national champion David Thompson.

David Thompson and other attendees watch as a black sheet is removed to reveal a new statue in his likeness next to Reynolds Coliseum.
David Thompson and other attendees watch as a new statue in his likeness is unveiled next to Reynolds Coliseum.

When David Thompson was a freshman at NC State in 1971, the Guinness Book of World Records came to Reynolds Coliseum to measure a vital statistic few people at that time ever talked about: something called a “vertical leap.”

Officials measured his standing jump at 42 inches, a number so remarkable that it remained in the annual list of global achievements even after he surpassed it several times during his Wolfpack basketball (and brief track and field) career.

By the time Thompson left, with three ACC Player of the Year Awards, three All-America certificates, two national Player of the Year Awards, two ACC Championships and the school’s first team national championship, he could elevate a full 44 inches from a standing jump — a number that matched the one on Thompson’s jersey.

On Wednesday, Dec. 6, NC State unveiled a statue to honor Thompson nearly a half century after his playing career ended, making him the second former student-athlete and graduate and the first African American to have a statue erected on campus in his honor. Thompson’s coach, Norman Sloan, was a three-sport letterman at State and the first athlete and graduate recognized with a statue, which stands as part of the Coaches Corner next to Reynolds with Kay Yow, Everett Case and Jim Valvano.

“The four years I spent at NC State were the best of my life,” said Thompson, surrounded by teammates, family and a throng of supporters, donors and alumni who attended the event just outside Reynolds Coliseum.

Besides being placed 44 inches off the ground, the details of the statue, created by sculptor David Alan Clark of Wyoming, have a perfect 1970s flair: canvas Converse tennis shoes, two-stripe socks pulled up over the calves, sweatbands on each wrist, the single word “State” on the front of the jersey and just enough of a frizzy hairstyle to represent his generation.

Viewed at the proper angle, it appears the statue might be aiming to dunk the ball into the Technology Tower at the end of Talley Student Union more than 100 yards away. If anyone was capable of doing so, it was Thompson.

A large crowd of people gathered around the new statue of David Thompson.
A large crowd gathers around and admires the new statue of David Thompson.

It was an emotional day for the youngest child of a family from the Cleveland County town of Boiling Springs, where Thompson grew up with seven sisters, three brothers and one bathroom. The only time the former Crest High School star teared up at the unveiling was when he talked about his parents, Vellie and Ida Thompson.

“My mom and dad would really be proud of this,” Thompson said.

After his playing career was over and he served as an ambassador for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, Thompson re-enrolled at NC State at the age of 49 to complete his degree in sociology in 2003. He received his diploma at the same winter commencement as his oldest daughter, Ericka, who received an NC State degree in arts applications, and a week ahead of youngest daughter Brooke, who received sociology and psychology degrees from UNC-Asheville.

The day of the unveiling belonged to Thompson, just a few hours before this year’s Wolfpack team played its annual heritage game at Reynolds Coliseum, where Thompson played all of his home games. He and his teammates will gather again in February to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1974 NCAA Championship, which capped off a two-season run in which head coach Norm Sloan’s team complied a 57-1 record, a feat that has never been repeated.

David Thompson seated in front of a large red screen with a picture of him during his years playing basketball at NC State.
Thompson speaks at the statue unveiling event.

While it was a team reunion with assistant coach Eddie Biedenbach and players like Tom Burleson, Phil Spence, Mark Moeller, Craig Kuszmaul and others, perhaps the greatest testament to Thompson’s lasting legacy was the attendance and participation of those who had been some of Thompson’s fiercest opponents.

“He was unique, he was one of a kind,” said fellow Hall of Fame inductee Bill Walton, in an NC State athletics video. “He was a comet that came through our universe one time.

“There is only one David Thompson.”

NBA legend Michael Jordan, who chose Thompson to introduce him at his own Hall of Fame induction, said simply: “I was inspired by him.”

Former All-Americans Barry Parkhill of Virginia and Phil Ford of North Carolina attended the statue unveiling, as did other NC State superstars such as football All-American Torry Holt, women’s basketball star Chasity Melvin and members of the 1983 NCAA championship team.

And Thompson gave a special shoutout to his niece, Charlotte Smith, who helped the UNC-Chapel Hill women’s basketball team win the 1994 NCAA championship.

After the ceremony, Thompson spoke at a press conference, gave an interview to a documentary film crew and prepared to attend one more instance of the sporting event that made him famous: a men’s basketball game at Reynolds Coliseum.