Tim StoddardMarch 19, 2009
I started becoming aware of baseball about thirty-five years ago, in 1974, when I was six. Basketball lagged behind baseball in that regard, only edging onto my personal radar when my brother, who I followed almost everywhere and into almost everything, began to play on his junior high team in the late 1970s.
My attachment to basketball became official in or around 1980, when a large poster of David Thompson went up on my wall. Thompson’s nickname was Skywalker, and the poster did the name justice, making it seem that he was not simply leaping but that he was in possession of some kind of magic that allowed him to stroll in midair until all mortals attempting to stop him clattered back to earth, at which point Thompson would punctuate the moment with a ferocious tomahawk slam.
Thompson was at that time a star in the NBA, though injuries to his knees—the price paid for skywalking—would bring his career to a premature close. He had been even more sensational in the recently defunct ABA, the only player alive able to claim a piece of the most rarified air of myth inhabited by the superstar of the renegade league, the Doctor, Julius Erving. But Thompson’s greatest renown came even farther back in the past, before he reached the pros, when he played David to UCLA’s Goliath, toppling the Bruins’ seemingly impenetrable dynasty, and led his NC State Wolfpack to the 1974 NCAA title.
NC State is currently celebrating the 35th anniversary of that feat. In one article about the team’s celebratory gatherings, a balder version of the man shown here in his 1980 Orioles card can be seen in the background as 7’4″ team center Tommy Burleson gesticulates in the foreground.
Boy, one minute you’re a strapping young ox with blue sky behind you and your whole future ahead of you, and the next minute you’re sitting on an overmatched wooden chair listening to a giant reminisce about something that went on 35 years ago. Such is life. If Tim Stoddard is one to find solace in personal achievements, he’s in luck, for he’s the only man ever to win an NCAA basketball championship and a World Series ring. (As Brian Joura recently pointed out, Kenny Lofton is the player who has come the closest to equalling Stoddard’s feat.)
I get the feeling, however, that Stoddard is more likely to take solace in the respect of his peers. On this count, he also seems to be in luck. In another article about a reunion of the long ago NCAA champs, David Thompson himself testified to the essential contributions to the Wolfpack’s title of today’s towering Cardboard God:
“[Stoddard] was a guy who could do a little bit of everything—shoot, defend, great passer. People talk about me and [point guard] Monte [Towe] on the alley-oop. He threw about as many alley-oops as Monte did. It was good to have a guy like that who did the dirty work. He was kind of the enforcer.”