LOS ANGELES — Longtime obligations and allegiances are unbreakable, so when someone wins a pair of championships with the Lakers and gives commentary on the team’s radio broadcasts, a job he’s held the last several years, believe Mychal Thompson when he says: “My blood runs purple and gold.”
Longtime obligations and allegiances are unbreakable, so believe Thompson when he also says, with more emphasis: “I’m a parent first and foremost so I’m rooting hard for my son. I always want him to do well.”
So that’s settled, then: Blood is thicker than blood. Or something like that. It’s complicated anytime Mychal Thompson’s Lakers are playing Klay Thompson’s Warriors, and elevated in this, their first playoffs together. Or against each other. Something like that.
It makes for a curious on-air tug-of-war, with each end of the rope pulled by a devoted father and employee negotiating emotions as the Lakers and Warriors seek to eliminate each other.
“The way I always look at it is, I’ve got twice the chance to win a championship ring,” says the father. “If Klay wins one, I get one. If the Lakers win one, I get one. It gives me double the chance.”
Every father of a talented son wants that son to give him something to talk about, and this is quite literally happening in the unique case of Mychal and Klay Thompson. Although listeners to 710 AM will rarely if ever hear the father gush uncontrollably about the son.
“No,” said Mychal Thompson. “I try to keep it even keel. In Game 1 when he was struggling I just said he had a tough night shooting the ball. Got to keep it professional.”
Overall, the situation can’t help but be positive. Mychal Thompson is ebullient by nature, someone who can talk about anything, with an emphasis on humor and insight. He’s a natural broadcaster, which became his full-time gig after retiring from the game in 1991. His son of course is a historical 3-point shooter and four-time champion. Therefore, the subject of discussion and the person doing the discussion are not only uniquely linked, but made for each other in that regard.
Their “situation” began in 2011 when Klay entered the league. Mychal Thompson knew the moment was inevitable, where he’d have to call his son’s games on the opposing team’s radio, and he was prepared.
Klay’s first game against the Lakers was Jan. 6, 2012. He came off the bench — yes, he was once a sub — and dropped 14 points in 21 minutes, an impressive cameo. But there’s a backstory to that.
“That was against Kobe Bryant, his idol,” said the father, “so it was a really special night for him. Going against Kobe, that was a tough thing for veteran players to deal with, much less rookies. I said on the air that I just hope Klay can hold his own against the great Kobe Bryant. And he was alright. I was very proud of him. He was able to go in and compete on a very high level against the great Kobe.”
Father and son understandably spent time together the night before and discussed everything but that upcoming game.
“I didn’t want to put any extra pressure or nerves on Klay,” Mychal Thompson said. “I knew what it was like to be a rookie and your first game against your basketball idol. That’s what it was like for me when I got the chance to play against Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) for the first time. I was so nervous going against a guy I watched for my whole basketball fandom, now I’m going against him.”
And what about the father’s nerves on less significant games between the Lakers and Warriors?
“Oh, it doesn’t matter what games I watch him play,” he said. “The nerves are there. I was nervous when he was in high school. He didn’t have to be in the NBA. High school, college, you always get nervous for your kid because you want him to do well.”
Klay had a number of solid games against the Lakers, with his father on the mic. His sixth-highest-scoring game, 44 points, was against L.A. in Jan. of 2019. He broke 40 for the first time against the Lakers five years earlier.
“I still remember the 44-point game,” said Mychal Thompson. “He made 10 straight 3s, missed his 11th, just rimmed out. And he didn’t play in the fourth quarter because it was such a blowout. Imagine if he was able to play in a close game. He could’ve made 17 straight 3s, he was in such a rhythm. He was hot.”
His broadcast partner is Lakers play-by-plan man John Ireland, who says it isn’t hard to notice the distinction between a game against the Warriors and one against, say, the Rockets.
“He roots for Klay all day,” said Ireland. “He’s also tougher on Klay than he is on other people whose games we call. You would think he’d be easier. Julie, his wife, gives him a hard time about that. He’ll get a text halfway through the game from her — `you’re just killing Klay!’ There’s times the Warriors are playing someone else and I’ll say Klay has 40 and Mychal will say, `Oh yeah, well how many rebounds does he have?
“But that doesn’t reveal his true feelings. I’ve learned so much about being a father by being around him. He is so supportive. He watches as many Warriors game as humanly possible. The only time I’ve seen him speechless — and Mychal can talk all day about all things — was when Klay had an NBA record 37 in one quarter (Jan. 2015, against the Kings). We were sitting in the back of the Lakers team plane waiting to take off to another city, and everyone’s going crazy, and he’s speechless. Blown away.”
And this Lakers-Warriors series?
“He’s tortured,” said Ireland.
Well, to a degree, anyway. The father does have a clear rooting interest.
“I want Klay to do well,” said Mychal Thompson. “When he loses and I can tell he’s unhappy, I don’t like to see that. I’m a parent and you want your kid to be happy as much as possible. I know how much the game means to him, so when he doesn’t win, I know how much that hurts him and it hurts me a lot, too.”
Prior to Game 1 in San Francisco, the two had dinner and, once again, didn’t discuss the matter at hand. That has become a ritual that both are comfortable with, because it works for them.
“We watched the other series, the Nuggets and Suns, and talked about basketball in that series,” said Mychal Thompson. “This series, look, Klay’s a 12-year veteran, Hall of Famer, four-time champion. He doesn’t need any advice from me. He knows what he has to do. And he’s got Steve Kerr, Steph (Curry), Draymond (Green), great teammates to offer advice. He doesn’t need to hear any more from me because he’s been there and done it all.”
Mychal Thompson has three sons and all three earned pro sports paychecks. Trayce plays for the Dodgers, Mychel had a brief NBA stop before settling in as an assistant coach with the Warriors. And of course, Klay.
There are six NBA championship rings between the two of them, and while the father earned his first, Klay’s jewelry brings more bling, which he has mentioned more than once.
“Back in the ‘80s,” explained Mychal Thompson, “the rings weren’t as ostentatious as they are today. Not as glamorous. His rings are twice the size as mine. He laughs but I tell him the rings mean just as much.”
That’s why the Laker colors run so deep within Mychal Thompson. He was part of “Showtime” and rode next to his idol Kareem and Magic Johnson and coached by Pat Riley, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“The Lakers have done so much for me and my basketball career,” he said. “Made me what I am today though basketball.”
But the pride of seeing a son surpass those accomplishments, and grow into his own, and make a bold mark on the game … that’s well worth discussing on the air in this series, while working for the Lakers.
“The standard line is he wants Klay to get 50 and the Lakers to win by two,” said Ireland. “I kid him and say, `If the Warriors are down two and there’s a 3-pointer in the air and it was shot by Klay, you’re not telling me you want that to go in?’
“And he looks at me and sheepishly goes, `Of course.’”
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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