On April 9, 1978, the San Antonio Spurs’ George Gervin scores 63 points in his final game of the regular season to edge out the Denver Nuggets’ David Thompson in one of the tightest contests for the NBA scoring crown in basketball history. Gervin went on to become the league’s top scorer again in 1979, 1980 and 1982, making him one of just three NBA players to ever capture four or more scoring titles.
George Gervin was born April 27, 1952, in Detroit, Michigan. He played for Long Beach State and Eastern Michigan University before joining the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association (ABA) in 1972. The 6’7” shooting guard, nicknamed “Iceman” for his composed on-court style, moved to the San Antonio Spurs in 1974. On April 9, 1978, during the Spurs’ last game of the regular season, against the New Orleans Jazz, Gervin scored 63 points and took home his first NBA scoring title. He narrowly defeated David Thompson, who earlier that same day scored 73 points against the Detroit Pistons. Gervin averaged 27.22 points per game to Thompson’s 27.15. The Iceman would win the scoring crown three more times in his career; only Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan have claimed more scoring titles.
David Thompson, who led North Carolina State University to an NCAA championship in 1974, joined the Denver Nuggets in 1975, when the team was still part of the ABA (the two leagues merged in 1976). Nicknamed “Skywalker,” Thompson, who had a 44-inch vertical leap, was named the ABA’s Rookie of the Year. In 1976, he was named the ABA’s Most Valuable Player and in 1977 and 1978, he was MVP of the NBA All-Star games. After his close loss to Gervin as scoring champ in 1978, Thompson signed a record $4 million, five-year contract with the Nuggets, making him the highest-paid player ever in team sports at the time. However, he was plagued with injuries and substance abuse problems and traded to the Seattle Supersonics in 1982. Thompson injured himself falling down some stairs at New York City’s Studio 54 club during the 1983-1984 season and was later released by the Sonics. He attempted an comeback to the NBA in 1985, but was unsuccessful.
George Gervin left San Antonio in 1985 and spent his final season in the NBA playing for the Chicago Bulls. The nine-time NBA All-Star and three-time ABA All-Star racked up a combined NBA/ABA total of 26,595 points and a career scoring average of 26.2 points per game. Both Gervin and Thompson were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996.