The Greatest Title Chase You’ve Never Heard Of

Most of us know about the McGwire Sosa home run record chase, but do you know about the 1978 NBA scoring title chase?



In 1998, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire staged a homerun chase for the ages.

Evan Hughes, Staff Writer

In 1998, one of the greatest chases in sports history graced the MLB. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battled each other for the home run crown, a sight not unfamiliar to baseball fans. McGwire had already led the MLB in home runs twice to that point, and Sammy Sosa had been a perennial 30 home run a year hitter.

None of that could have prepared them for what was about to transpire. McGwire was tearing the cover off the ball to start the season, with 27 home runs by the beginning of June, but an historic month from Sammy Sosa, who hit 22 home runs in the month, left them only four apart going into July. 

37-33, in favor of McGwire, was something unheard of for the time. Not only could fans see the first 60 home run season since Roger Maris did it almost 40 years ago, and the third such season ever. Not only could they see the first season in which multiple players hit 60 home runs, they could be witnessing the first 70 homer season ever.

Roger Maris held the single season record until Sosa and McGwire passed him. (NDHSAA)

Sosa tied McGwire at 46 after a two home run game against the Giants on August 10th, and again tied him at took his first lead at 49 on the 19th. McGwire would retake the lead, and hold it until he broke the record with his 62nd home run on September eighth. Sosa finished the season with 66 home runs, and McGwire finished with 70.

That is widely considered the greatest chase in sports history, as both of them broke the standing record by at least 5 home runs, but I think we’re overlooking something far greater when we ignore the 1978 NBA scoring title chase.

Our two heroes in this story are hall of famers George “Iceman” Gervin and David Thompson. The ‘78 season was rather uneventful. The MVP was legendary college basketball caster Bill Walton, and the Champions were the Washington Bullets. Finals MVP was Wes Unseld, although Elvin Hayes was the far better player, but that’s a story for another day.

David Thompson was undoubtedly one of the best players in the league in just his second season. He averaged 26.0 ppg in his lone ABA season, and followed that campaign up with 25.9 in his NBA rookie season. He was a clear front runner for the scoring title right away, and put in a great case for it during his final game of the season.

Heading into Detroit for his 80th game, Thompson needed to outscore Gervin by 15 points that day in order to win a scoring title. 

Thompson took control immediately, hitting his first eight shots in the first quarter, and finishing it with a then NBA record 32 points in a quarter. He shot 13-14 from the field and 6-6 from the free throw line as he put on one of the most dominant quarters we’ve ever seen.

George Gervin and David Thompson are two former NBA greats that are almost forgotten today (Basketball Network)

Thompson carried his dominance into the second quarter, hitting his first seven shots. He finished the half with 53 points on 20-23 shooting. “I’d caught fire before, but never anything like this.” recalled Thompson in his autobiography “Skywalker.” 

The Pistons had no answer for Thompson one-on-one, and decided their only hope would be to start sending everything they had at him. “Chris Ford, Eric Money, M. L. Carr, and Al Skinner all took turns double, triple, and sometimes quadruple-teaming me.”

Thompson amassed 20 points in the second half, finishing the game with 73 points on 28-38 shooting in the 137-139 loss in Detroit. Gervin would now need 59 points to win the scoring title. Thompson could only watch

Gervin led the league in scoring for pretty much the entire season. The Iceman had already established himself as one of the premier basketball players in the world, and was a 6 time all star headed into the season. It’s no surprise that he earned his seventh all star nod that season. Something Gervin didn’t have, however, was a scoring title, and nothing, not even 73 points from David Thompson, could deny him that honor.

Gervin knew what he needed to do going into the game, and so did the Spurs. San Antonio entered their game against the Jazz with a 52-29 record, and had already secured the top seed, so they were free to let Gervin do as he pleased.

To this day, the 1978 scoring title chase is the closest. (Fadeaway World)

The two games couldn’t have gotten off to more different starts. Gervin missed his first 6 shots to start the game, and it appeared that the scoring title may be out of reach for him. After a quick timeout, Gervin got back on track, scoring 20 in the frame. No amount of scoring in the first could prepare us for what was about to happen. Gervin caught fire, even more so than Thompson, as he broke his couple hour old record of 32 points in a quarter, one-upping him with 33, a record that would stand for almost 40 years, when Klay Thompson (no relation) scored 37.

Gervin racked up 53 points in the first half, just like Thompson, and scored another 10 in the second to punch his scoring title, finishing with 63 on the game. Gervin would go on to win 3 more scoring titles, and Thompson would never get one. 

The final score, Gervin with 27.22 ppg, and Thompson with 27.15 ppg, one of the closest scoring races ever, as both of their averages are represented as 27.2 ppg.