Gastonia’s 1st NBA player? He was a high school center and college point guard who played with 2 future Hall of Famers on the Warriors
By Richard Walker
Gastonia has certainly been blessed with NBA talent over the years, most notably with Hall of Famer James Worthy, All-Star Eric “Sleepy” Floyd and longtime current NBA assistant coach Darrell Armstrong.
But the first of Gastonia’s five NBA players took quite the unique path to that level.
A 6-foot-3 center at Hunter Huss High School, Thomas “Bubba” Wilson played point guard for much of career at Western Carolina University and played both guard positions for a Golden State Warriors team with a legendary head coach and two future Hall of Famers as teammates.
When he was inducted into the Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame in 2011, Wilson said he learned how to play basketball under the direction of former Erwin Recreation Center director James Ferguson before honing his skills under Mac Richardson and Jerry Green at Huss.
Green, who later became a Kansas assistant coach under Roy Williams and also served as a head coach at UNC-Asheville, Oregon and Tennessee, oversaw Wilson’s improvement from a 5.8 points per game scorer as a sophomore into a 14.6 points per game scorer for Huss’ first-ever state playoff game winner.
After Wilson and the Huskies won their first league title in his junior season of 1973, Huss went 24-2 in 1974 after losing in the North Carolina 4A state championship tournament at Greensboro Grimsley High School.
The Huskies went 11-1 in league play, then Dennis Pagan scored 20 points and Wilson 11 as Huss knocked off Winston-Salem R.J. Reynolds 49-35 in the first round of the state playoffs to advance to the eight-team state tournament. There, the Huskies were eliminated by eventual runner-up Fayetteville 71st 70-67 in the quarterfinals.
Wilson then went to Western Carolina, where the Catamounts were transitioning from NAIA to the NCAA Division I Southern Conference during his four-year career. A 1,380-point scorer, Wilson became Western Carolina’s first-ever All-Southern Conference selection after averaging 23.5 points and 7.7 rebounds in his senior season of 1977-78.
A fifth-round NBA draft pick of the Warriors in 1978, Wilson played in 16 games for Golden State in the 1979-80 season. He averaged 1.1 points, 1.0 rebounds and 8.9 minutes in 16 games.
He was coached by former North Carolina A&T star Al Attles, who had coached the Warriors to the 1975 NBA title. And among his teammates were future Basketball Hall of Famers Robert Parish (2003 inductee) and JoJo White (2015). Parish also was a nine-time All-Star and four-time NBA champion and White was a seven-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion.
Before Wilson was inducted into the 2011 Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame, his longtime friend and current Gastonia mayor Walker Reid summed up Wilson’s career transformation this way:
“He played center at Huss and played point guard at Western Carolina,” Reid told The Gaston Gazette. “How many people can make that transition, much less do it well?”
Wilson played two seasons in the Phillipines before returning to his hometown where he worked for the Gastonia and Charlotte fire departments.
Among his duties in Charlotte were working the old Charlotte Coliseum off Tyvola Road and the downtown Charlotte Spectrum Center during NBA Charlotte Hornets’ games.
“Every once in awhile a guy will recognize me,” Wilson told The Gaston Gazette in 2011. “Usually it’s when Golden State is in town. They’ll go get the book (media guide) and see my picture in there.”