MYCHAL THOMPSON … LAKERS RADIO COLOR ANALYST … FORWARD/CENTER WITH THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS, SAN ANTONIO SPURS, AND PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS, 1979 1991 … NUMBER-ONE NBA DRAFT PICK, 1978 Be quick, but never hurry. JOHN W OODEN, legendary UCLA basketball coach 140 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME Ialways cared about the game. Even when I was a raw player, I always wanted to look good. On the islands, the Bahamas, I played cricket and soccer and dreamed of being the next Joe Namath. I didn’t start playing basketball until I was seventeen. As a kid, when we played we drew a crowd, and I never wanted to be seen as unprepared or wild. I always tried to play my best, even at a young age. I also cared tremendously about how my peers felt about me. I got that from my dad, who was a prideful man who worked hard his whole life. He set a great Christian example for me and my siblings. As I grew out of all those other sports I was pushed toward basketball by my friends and family. Eventually, it brought me off the islands and to the States, where my potential could be reached. PRO DREAMS I knew it was possible to get off the island and into pro sports because others did. I watched Roberto Clemente and Juan Marichal and thought maybe I could do it, too.
They gave me hope. I know today kids look at me and see that their dreams can come true because mine did. Because of this, I always go back and give back. When I played, not only did I feel like I was playing for my career and family, but for all of the Bahamas, and this helped me stay focused my whole career. It was a role I cherished. What I am proudest of in my career isn’t the titles or the money, but that I was the first Bahamian to play professional sports. FEAR OF FAILURE? Yes, and that’s why I prepare and prepare and prepare some more. I still had bad games and today as the cohost of a sports radio talk show, I have bad shows, but at least I know I put myself in the position to be successful. Even if I fail, I just get up and try to be better tomorrow. NO STRUTTINGJUST HAPPY TO BE THERE The way I was able to deal with the fame of being a pro player, a Laker, and a world champion is simple: I was never impressed with myself. I MYCHAL THOMPSON 141 knew I had a glamorous job that I loved, but still, I was no better than anyone else.
I always considered myself the island boy, the kid from the Bahamas who shouldn’t be there but somehow found a way to slip through. THANKS, COACH Jack Ramsey taught me how to train, how to work, and how to eat. He was a coaching legend and he actually worked out like a player. Just seeing him train and eat was a great example for me and helped extend my career to the age of thirty-six. By the way, I know I could have played into my forties and I regret not giving it a try. When it comes to winning, Pat Riley taught me so much. I know anyone can win once, but Pat Riley raised my standards. He made me think bigger, and I still take life like that today. I know not to settle, and I also learned how to work and accept having to pay the price. HOW I PLAYED THE GAME I prided myself on intelligence, on trying to outsmart my opponents. I was not the most talented player out there. My work was done before the game: getting to know my opponent. I had to know where their strengths and weaknesses were, and I still do that today now that I cohost a radio talk show. I mean, when you’re going against a Karl Malone, a Moses Malone, a Kareem, if you don’t do your homework, you’ll get killed. Especially because they were all more talented than I was, I had to fill the gap somehow, and for me it was with videotape and hard work. My goal was never to shut anyone out, but just to keep them under their averages.
HOW IT HELPS TODAY Today, as a talk show host, I get calls from all around the country, and there are times I get abused verbally. My partner is always surprised that I don’t fire back or get excited, or ever take it personally. That mind-set comes from playing and hearing it from the fans at the away games, and even from the hometown supporters when I didn’t produce. The more I’m out of sports in real life, the more I realize sports is like life. It’s sorrowful. It’s playful. And just like life, you’re going to lose family members 142 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME and friends who go their separate ways. Life is like sports because it’s so full of ups and downs. There are days when I make great decisions in the same way there were days on the court when I felt like I couldn’t be stopped. WHAT’S WRONG WITH TODAY’S SPORTS PARENTS? Too many parents are putting too much pressure on their kids. So many parents look at their kids as a meal ticket and try to live through them, and that’s very, very sad. MY WRAP Mychal gets it. I think that comes from growing up in a neighborhood where the families had very little. Even today, on his sports radio talk show, he says it’s a privilege to do something he loves and that, my friends, is talk about sports. How many of you get to do what you love for a living? If you don’t, maybe you should try. MYCHAL THOMPSON
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