AMES, Iowa – Wednesday marked the end of an era for Iowa State.
Gary Thompson called his last game for Iowa State, when the Cyclones defeated Missouri 67-49 at Hilton Coliseum. He is retiring after almost 40 years in sports broadcasting.
“Listening to Gary Thompson broadcast Cyclone basketball games conjures up so many memories of Big Eight and Big 12 basketball,” Iowa State athletics director Bruce Van De Velde said. “Gary’s relationship with Iowa State as a professional broadcaster, All-American student-athlete and ambassador for the university is rare and very special.”
It was a special night all-around for Iowa State, which honored its senior players before its last home game of the year. The players and fans, in turn, honored Thompson. Cyclone seniors Damion Staple and Jared Homan paused to give Thompson hugs before returning to the locker room.
The sell-out crowd chanted Thompson’s name during a timeout midway through the first half. He was given a standing ovation during a ceremony during halftime. When he was introduced as the “best television sports broadcaster, nationally,” he just smiled and shook his head.
Thompson, the color analyst for Cyclone Television Network, has been the voice of Iowa State basketball since 1987. Missourians will remember Thompson from his days as analyst for the Big Eight ‘Game of the Week’ from 1971 to 1977.
Thompson went to NBC in 1977. In his time in the business, he worked along side Marv Albert, Jack Buck, Dick Enberg and Bob Costas.
“Gary taught a lot of people, including myself, an awful lot about basketball,” Cyclone Network producer Bob Helmers said. “Gary takes his television work very seriously, but he always found a way to make it fun at the same time.”
NBC lost the broadcasting rights for the NCAA tournament in 1981, but Thompson kept broadcasting tournament basketball for NCAA productions until 1987. After 20 years calling one of the most emotional and exciting tournaments in sports, he has more than a few stories.
His favorite one to tell is his part in one of the most famous 5-minute stretches in college basketball, during the 1981 tournament.
“It was called the greatest live switch in NCAA history,” Thompson said. “I was broadcasting the DePaul-St. Joseph’s game, where top-seeded DePaul was upset in the final seconds by this unheralded St. Joseph’s team.
When the game ended, we immediately went live to the Arkansas-Louisville game just in time to see the famous half-court shot at the buzzer to win the game for Arkansas. When that ended, we switched live to the Kansas State-Oregon State game and saw Rolando Blackman drive down the sideline and hit the fade-away shot from the corner to win the game in the final seconds for the Wildcats.”
Thompson was also quite an athlete himself. He was a two-sport All-American in basketball and baseball for the Cyclones in 1957, the first ever two-spot All-American at Iowa State. He is a member of the Cyclone Athletic Hall of Fame.
“It was an extreme honor to be able to cover Iowa State games and stay associated with the university I love,” Thompson said. “I always tried my best to be objective when I was doing an Iowa State game, but deep in my heart I was always pulling for the Cyclones.”