OAKLAND – Officially, the record-shattering eruption was Jan. 23 against the Kings. Unofficially, it took Klay Thompson about nine minutes to snatch the family bragging rights, render his famously loquacious father speechless, and supplant his old man as the crown prince of Bahamian basketball.
Nine minutes, 37 points.
Nik Stauskas and Ben McLemore are still nursing their burns. By the time Thompson finished scorching the Kings guards for a career-high 52 points, he had virtually assured his first All-Star Game selection and burnished the reputation of the Golden State Warriors’ dynamic young backcourt.
“We were on the tarmac waiting to take off,” recalled his father, Mychal Thompson, a former Lakers player and now a radio analyst for the team. “Everybody on the plane was watching and yelling at me. I was stunned. When I heard 37 points before the fourth quarter, before we took off, I wondered what he finished with. It was surreal, man.”
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That’s his story and he is sticking with it, say, for about 10 minutes. Seated in a near-empty Oracle Arena a few hours before Game 2 of the Golden State-New Orleans series Monday, Mychal Thompson laughed and said he had a confession to make: Nothing his son does is outside the realm of possibility. He predicts a Hall of Fame induction and utters Kobe Bryant comparisons. With a quick, prideful grin, he confirms that Klay even has eclipsed his own celebrity in his native Nassau, where Mychal has answered to the nickname “Sweet Bells” since high school.
In an unofficial popularity poll conducted by this columnist while visiting Bahamian relatives last summer, Klay Thompson won in a landslide, undoubtedly benefiting from the heightened exposure of cable television and other modern amenities. For all its relaxed vibe and soothing transparent waters, the islands off the Florida coast increasingly are feeling the league’s global grip. Mychal Thompson, 60, made the introduction decades ago with annual invitations to Lakers teammates Byron Scott, Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Vlade Divac, but Nassau today is a crowded offseason NBA playground.
“Back when I was growing up,” Mychal Thompson said, “I would ride my bike down to the store to pick up the weekly publications and read about cricket, the NFL, NBA. That was my introduction to America. When I left to finish high school in Miami, it was only 35, 40 minutes away by air, but it felt like Mars. It was a lonely existence.”
The Thompson basketball tree includes Mychal Thompson’s younger brother, Andy, who played professionally overseas and is the vice president of NBA Entertainment. Occasionally, Andy Thompson can be seen filming Klay inside the locker room or producing a feature on his brother and nephew. Mostly, the nephew.
Although Mychal Thompson’s porfolio includes All-America honors at Minnesota, his selection as a No. 1 overall draft pick in 1978 and two NBA championships with the Lakers (1987-88), Klay is the more relevant rising star.
Klay Thompson’s journey lacks the island romance of his father and uncle, and his path and his skills are very much his own. His father knew first.
In another burst of paternal pride, Mychal Thompson claims his son started successfully hoisting three-pointers at age 6. “He shot the ball like a kid,” Thompson added in his lilting accent, motioning with both hands, “but the ball went in.”
After a stellar prep career at Santa Margarita High School, highlighted by an eye-popping performance that included seven three-pointers in the CIF state championships at Sleep Train Arena, Thompson nonetheless was snubbed by USC and UCLA and slipped off to Washington State, the only Pacific-12 Conference school that recruited him.
Three years later, the Kings passed on him with the seventh pick – they drafted Bismack Biyombo and packaged him in a deal for Jimmer Fredette, the 10th pick – before Thompson was selected by the Warriors at No. 11, joining Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis in a backcourt in transition.
“We had Steph and Monta,” Warriors assistant general manager Travis Schlenk said, “and we needed a bigger guy. We liked Klay’s athleticism, his size, his defense and, of course, his shooting. The thing we didn’t really appreciate until the (pre-draft) workout was his ability to make plays coming out of pick-and-rolls. He’s gotten better going to the rim and finishing, but the next step for him is making plays when he drives. He’ll make other players better.”
When Ellis was traded to Milwaukee in an unpopular deal for Andrew Bogut in March 2012, the backcourt stars began to align. It’s a guard combination seemingly created by the basketball gods, one that helped lead the Warriors to 67 victories, the most in the NBA this season.
The 6-foot-3 Curry, with his superb shooting and beguiling, spectacular ballhandling, is a favorite for the league’s MVP award. His game is energetic and electric, making it impossible to look away.
The rangy, 6-foot-7 Thompson is understated in style and personality, but a similarly explosive, if different, type of scorer. Slinky and deceptive, his movements resemble those of a large cat, and he can strike from anywhere: deep catch-and-shoot opportunities, curls into the lane, quick-hit jumpers behind elbow screens, one-handed floaters. His use of ball and head fakes is old-school – honed during hours practicing with his father – and his release point is high; he needs very little room to get off a shot.
“Just continue to play both ends hard,” the soft-spoken Thompson said the other night. “Trust the offense. Play unselfish. If I do those things, I’m tough to stop.”
That’s about as outspoken as Thompson gets. He leaves the trash talking to Draymond Green and the talking, in general, to his teammates and his father. As he finished dressing after Game 2, which included an explosive fourth quarter, the four-year veteran gestured toward the hallway, where his father was waiting.
“He’s out there,” Thompson said with a grin, “and I’m sure he’s talking.”
He was. And no apologies.
“I used to tell everyone, including my wife (Julie), that Klay was going to be an NBA star,” Mychal Thompson said, shaking his head. “Like a lot of people, she told me I was crazy.”
Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.