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Stories Of The NBA: Cocaine, The Fall Of David Thompson

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Cocaine,an addictive drug derived from coca or prepared synthetically used as an illegal stimulant and sometimes medicinally as a local anesthetic. Not only that but also the fall of many NBA players career including the likes of Len Bias, Michal Ray Richard, and the man we look at today; David Thompson.

David Thompson was the first overall pick in the 1975 ABA draft by the Atlanta Hawks and then moved on to his NBA career for the Denver Nuggets. In his rookie year in the NBA, he appeared in 82 games for the Nuggets putting up a stat line of 25.9 PPG, 4.1 APG and 4.1 RPG — a solid stat line for a 22-year-old NBA rookie. Let put this in perspective, at 26 years old in the prime of career fellow star Julius Erving in his rookie NBA season averaged a line of 21.6 PPG 8.5 RPG 3.7 APG, only beating Thompson in rebounds while being a forward compared to Thompson being a guard.

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Thompson was absolutely dominant, finishing Top 10 in MVP voting in his first 3 NBA seasons and third in one season which he was robbed of the MVP in which I explain here. In Thompson’s “Prime Years”  of 1975 – 1981 David averaged 25.4 PPG, 3.6 APG and 4.5 RPG a very impressive line for the first 6 seasons of someone’s career. In Kobe Bryant’s first 6 years he averaged 19.8 PPG 3.8 APG and 4.6 RPG, and let’s keep in mind Kobe was playing with the Shaqtus. David Thompson absolutely dwarfs Kobe’s numbers, a player who is a revered top 10 player of all time. The All-Time great Dan Issel said: “If David played until he couldn’t play any longer, he would be mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan.”

You see, when people say Cocaine is a hell of a drug, they aren’t kidding. David Thompson went from on top of the world to rock bottom in less than a span of 5 years. Word is that he acquired these problems with alcohol and cocaine because he couldn’t handle criticism. Like I stated before, David Thompson was without a doubt one of the best players in the NBA at the moment if not THE best. He was also the highest paid professional in the history of sports.  Thompson’s addiction to drugs was first found out by the owner of his team, the Denver Nuggets. At the time, he knew about the problem but would never come to the press about it because he thought he would quit. But when Thompson was 23 he had given into drugs since he was dealing with high pressure from the media, he was trying to do too much, and the drugs were his outlet, according to and they consumed him.

The thing that pushed him over the edge happened in the Manhattan Club; Studio 54  where he was pushed down the stairs after being under the influence. That was the end of David Thompson’s career. “I had the ability to be one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game…and I blew it.” Said Thompson, and he was absolutely right. This is the same man who in his only ABA season, had led the Denver Nuggets ABA Finals and where he met rival ball star;Julius Erving. They battled each other like  soldiers fighting for their lives, but Erving was the victor in the set, winning 4-2.

BOSTON - 1979: David Thompson #33 of the Denver Nuggets moves the ball up court against Don Chaney #12 of the Boston Celtics during a game played in 1979 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1979 NBAE (Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)

BOSTON – 1979: David Thompson #33 of the Denver Nuggets moves the ball up court against Don Chaney #12 of the Boston Celtics during a game played in 1979 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1979 NBAE (Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)

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After the drugs had officially consumed him, he struggled immensely in his final 3 seasons; well to his standards. In his final 3 seasons (really two he only played 19 games in 83-84) Thompson’s stats tumbled to still an above average NBA player, but an awful line to his standards of 15.1 PPG  2.3 AP and 3.0 RPG. He finished his career with the Seattle Supersonics at age 29 and has pretty much been forgotten by every modern NBA fan. His final career stat line, even after only 9 seasons was still good enough to get him into the Hall Of Fame averaging 22.7 PPG , 3.3 APG, and 4.1 RPG, a line some players wish they could achieve on cocaine or not.

David Thompson will forever be remembered as one of the greatest NBA players of all time, even during his short career. It’s true shame his career was cut short thank to his drug habits but he was phenomenal player and if not for the drugs, would be in the same breath as Jordan and LeBron.

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