I live in the state of North Carolina, but when it comes to college basketball I am not a fan of the UNC Tarheels or the Duke Blue Devils. No, my team is the NC State Wolfpack. Do you want to know why? It’s because I was seven years old and just starting to pay attention to college basketball in the winter of 1973-1974, and that just happened to be the winter the NC State basketball team won the ACC regular season championship, the ACC tournament championship, and the NCAA tournament championship. That team finished the season undefeated in the ACC and with an overall record of 30 wins and 1 loss. That one loss came at the hands of the defending national champion UCLA Bruins early in the season, and NC State avenged it by beating the Bruins later in the season in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. That win put an end to the Bruins’ historic run of seven straight national championships.
That NC State team was magical and is still named on short lists of the greatest college basketball teams ever. It featured three All Conference players: 7’2 (listed as 7’4) center Tommy Burleson, 6’4 forward David Thompson, and 5’7 point guard Monte Towe. Thompson was named both the Conference Player of the Year and the National Player of the Year. He’s also mentioned on short lists of the greatest college basketball players ever. Everybody knows about Michael Jordan. Well, growing up, Jordan wanted to be David Thompson and showed his admiration for Thompson by asking him to give the introduction speech for him when Jordan was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. Thompson himself had been a member of that Hall of Fame since 1996.
A couple of years ago some good friends of mine — UNC Tarheel fans no less — gave me a daily devotion book entitled Daily Devotions for Die-Hard Fans: N.C. State. (By the way, the same publisher has done such books on many other college sports programs, and I recommend the books as gifts.) In the Day 33 devotion of my book, a devotion called “Hero Worship,’ I learned something that I didn’t know about that 1973-74 N.C. State basketball team. I learned that David Thompson has always called 6’7 power forward Tim Stoddard the unsung hero of that team.
I do remember Stoddard being a starting forward on the team, but I have to say that I remember him more for his long career as a Major League baseball player. As a matter of fact, according to the book, he’s actually the only person in history to earn a World Series ring (for his role on the World Series winning 1983 Baltimore Orioles team) and a NCAA basketball championship ring. For Stoddard, that’s a pretty nice thing to have on your resume, and it just adds even more mystique to that legendary N.C. State basketball team.
On the subject of Stoddard, here’s an excerpt from that devotion, “Hero Worship”:
“It was good to have a guy like that who did the dirty work. He was kind of the enforcer,” Thompson said. Stoddard was indeed the muscle man inside. He was a 6’7, 230-pound power forward who came to Raleigh in 1971. He moved into the starting lineup as a junior that championship season and averaged 5.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. “My role has always been a support guy,” he said. “That’s fine with me.”
And now, as my close to this post, let me offer another excerpt from that same devotion. This one drives home the point of the person whom God considers to be a true hero:
A hero is commonly thought of as someone who performs brave and dangerous feats that save or protect someone’s life. Or an athlete who excels. You figure that excludes you. But ask your son about that when you show him how to bait a hook, or your daughter when you show up for her dance recital. Look into the eyes of those Little Leaguers you help coach.
…For God, a hero is a person with the heart of a servant. And if a hero is a servant who acts to save other’s lives, then the greatest hero of all is Jesus Christ.
God seeks heroes today, those who will proclaim the name of their hero — Jesus — proudly and boldly, no matter how others may scoff or ridicule. God knows heroes when he sees them — by what’s in their hearts.