SEATTLE -- At 32, his professional basketball career apparently over -- partly because of a knee injury -- Thompson resides in King County's North Rehabilitation Facility, serving a 180-day sentence for assaulting his wife, Cathy.
The white-frame barrack-like buildings on the grounds of this minimum-security detention center lack the chill of cell blocks and steel bars, but Thompson's confinement nonetheless represents a new low in the life of the former Denver Nuggets and Seattle SuperSonics star.
"He was a man on top of the world and all of the sudden he's nothing," said Ken Hutcherson, a former professional football player who became pastor of Antioch Bible Church and who recently counseled Thompson.
"No one can take the blame for what happened to David; he made his choices. He just had a hard time saying no. He had a lot of acquaintances, a lot of people who used him. It's no excuse, but it's true. Maybe the question that should be posed is: Where are David's friends?"
With few exceptions, they appear to have severed their ties or at least have kept their distance in the wake of his repeated inability to bring his life under control. Thompson has responded by erecting a barrier of distrust around himself. Ever suspicious of the media, he has repelled all attempts to interview him.
Consequently, the only available readings of his frame of mind come second-hand from the few people whose lives have brushed his.
"I think this whole thing has made David a lot more aware of what's going on," said John Greig, a former SuperSonics teammate who has remained close to Thompson. "I think he still has hope. That's the gut feeling I have."
Part of that feeling is the result of a call Greig got from an assistant coach at Thompson's alma mater, North Carolina State. Greig said the school inquired about Thompson's whereabouts with the apparent intention of offering him a job.
Jim Valvano, N.C. State's athletic director and head basketball coach, publicly expressed his wish to bring Thompson back to Raleigh during the NCAA tournament, but he could not be reached to confirm a specific job offer.
Wayne Stewart, the assistant city attorney in Mercer Island, Wash., who prosecuted Thompson, said that if the job opening proves valid he would be willing to ask the judge to reconsider the terms of Thompson's sentence.
"There's hope out there -- opportunity," said Hutcherson. "Now is the brightest it's been for David in years, but he still hasn't come to grips with his life. Cathy's just as skeptical as he is, but that's where I come in. They've got a lot of things they need to overcome."
Thompson's battle with drugs and alcohol, which began officially with his admission to a Denver rehabilitation center in 1983, has remained a somber backdrop to other troubles that have dominated his life.
The $10 million lawsuit he filed three years ago after a scuffle at Studio 54, a now-defunct New York discotheque, has been turned down once, although an appeal is pending. Meanwhile, damage to Thompson's knee ligaments suffered in the altercation has prevented, at least in part, his bid to return to the National Basketball Association.
"David doesn't talk a lot about realistic opportunities of playing again," says Greig, who plays offseason pickup ball with Thompson and other NBA players at a local health club. "But he still feels he can play with those guys. So do I. Considering he hasn't been doing everything he could for the knee, he's not like he used to be, but he's infinitely better than he was the first summer after surgery."
He may never get a chance to prove it. In September of 1985, what probably was Thompson's last chance to resume his NBA career ended when the Indiana Pacers passed him over at a preseason tryout because they didn't like the looks of his knee. That night, Thompson was arrested at an Indianapolis bar for public intoxication. He failed to appear for his hearing and the warrant remains outstanding.
Meanwhile, his drug use continued at an alarming pace. Herman Leroy Hudson, an admitted Seattle drug connection who confessed to taking $50,000 worth of belongings from Thompson's house in January 1986, said Thompson's cocaine habit sometimes reached $1,000 a day. Hudson burglarized Thompson's home while he was involved in his second drug rehabilitation program, at the Milam Recovery Center in Kirkland, Wash.
About 13 months ago, Thompson filed for Chapter 11 debt reorganization, listing $2.2 million in debts that included more than $800,000 in back taxes owed the Internal Revenue Service, the state of Colorado and King County. Greig said his $52,000 disability pension from the NBA players association runs out at the end of the year.
On top of the drug and financial problems came the assault charge, stemming from an incident in which Thompson allegedly struck a babysitter in the face and pulled his wife around by the hair at their rented home on Mercer Island. The police report noted that witnesses said that Thompson had been drinking and free-basing cocaine.
As Thompson's problems have mounted and his silence has continued, Greig finds himself cast in the role of reluctant spokesman.
"Everybody comes to me to find out what's going on with David and asks me a lot of questions, but I don't see a lot of people wanting to help," said Greig, who has maintained his home in Seattle while playing with Athletes In Action and in Switzerland the last two seasons.
"That irritates me. After all the money he handed out to people when things were going good for him, it's amazing to me nobody's offering him anything now. Everybody asks what to do to help him, but you tell them and they're not ready to do anything."
"I think everybody has tried to help in their own way," countered Steve Gordon, a local public relations man and part-time bullpen catcher for the Seattle Mariners who often worked out with Thompson. "But if you just give him cash, it'll probably go right up his nose."
On April 28, without a trial, Thompson was pronounced guilty in the assault of his wife and immediately sentenced to the maximum 180 days in jail. While he began serving his sentence at North Rehabilitation Facility, Greig's attorney wife, Karen, tried to get the sentence reduced.
But on May 21, Judge Suzanne Stables upheld her original decision. If Thompson remains in custody for the full term and gets credit for the maximum 10 days "good time" per month, he will be released Aug. 25.
Gordon recalled that a year ago last fall, Thompson showed up at his health club. He was heavy and silently took shots at side baskets while several players ran full court. Somebody asked him why he was wearing a plain sweatsuit, not the SuperSonics practice gear he usually wore to work out.
"I got no affiliation now," Thompson said.
He's had precious few affiliations on his best days over the past few years -- and some of those were suspect. "He had two sets of friends," said Gordon. "There were his hoop friends and there were the scumbags."