Below is part 1 of a Q&A with former Showtime Lakers and KSPN-710 AM color analyst, Mychal Thompson, who provided his two cents on the 2015 NBA Finals, his son, Klay, Stephen Curry and LeBron James.
What do you make of Golden State’s run?
Thompson: “I expected them to be this good. I made the prediction in October that I think this team is good enough to win the title. If the team that this good and this loaded fails to do that, I’ll look at it how I used to look at it in my Lakers days. It’s a failure when you’re as good as the Warriors. When you’re a good team and get to the playoffs, you can be happy with that. But when you’re built the way the Warriors are and the talent they have, it’s championship or bust. That’s the way we approached every year with Magic and Kareem and those guys with Pat Riley and Jerry West. Those teams were built to win championships. If you fail to do that, it’s a wasted year. Kobe feels the same way when the Lakers were on top.”
Did you expect Stephen Curry to have the year he had?
Thompson: “Oh yeah. Curry is the best shooter we’ve ever seen. For him to be MVP? No. I thought LeBron obviously would be the MVP going back to Cleveland like everybody else did. But for him to have that kind of season doesn’t surprise me. He should be doing this at his peak for the next seven of eight years. So he should be doing this ever year.”
How is he the best shooter you’ve ever seen?
Thompson: “By far, he’s the best. By far. Nobody is even close. Klay is in the conversation. Dale Ellis, his dad and there’s a bunch of guys in the conversation. But Steph is the best.”
Who’s second behind Steph?
Thompson: “Klay (laughs). I have to put him second. There’s a lot of guys who will argue for Dale Ellis, Dell Curry or Ray Allen or Reggie Miller.”
What about Larry Bird?
Thompson: “He’s in the conversation. Bird was as good a clutch, big-time shooter as we’ve ever seen. But Steph is the best. He’s uncanny with the way he can shoot.”
Besides his shooting, what made Steph the MVP this season?
Thompson: “His game is complete. His defense has improved and he has taken on the challenge to guard his position that he didn’t get to do under Mark Jackson. But he’s doing it under Steve Kerr. He’s doing it very well and is a complete player.”
What do you think of how Kerr has done
Thompson: “I love the way he’s coaching this team. He’s emphasized ball movement while they kept up their defensive presence. He’s having the team play the way you’re supposed to play when you have so many shooters all over the floor.”
Plenty of the Warriors’ locker room publicly supported Mark Jackson before he got fired. How did Kerr win the locker room over?
Thompson: “It was easy. He built off of what Mark built there. They had a defensive presence and he continued to emphasize that. Mark had made Steph and Klay the focus of their backcourt. Steve carried on with that. It was an easy transition. Mark already laid down the foundation. He just took it over from there.
How is Klay doing?
Thompson: “He’s doing fine. He went to a baseball game [Sunday]. If you have a concussion, there’s two places you shouldn’t be. Out in the bright sunlight and around a bunch of noise. So for him to be at the A’s game, that’s a good sign he’s ready to go.”
Was he just resting before that?
Thompson: “Yeah, when something like that happens, you have to rest, take it easy and let the symptoms pass.”
What was your reaction when you saw Klay get hurt?
Thompson: “It was unfortunate. But it was an accident. Trevor Ariza is not a dirty player by any means. It’s just one of those unfortunate things that happens on the court.”
But as a dad, what was going through your mind?
Thompson: “Oh yeah, you worry no matter who it is. When Steph had that fall in Houston, I was extremely concerned for him. To see any player have an awkward fall or head injury if it’s your son or not, you start praying for him.”
What happened to Klay’s ear?
Thompson: “It got cut. He got over it. It was just a cut.”
How long did it take to be normal?
Thompson: “By the next day, he started feeling a lot better. Even though he had to go through the concussion protocol by the NBA, he started feeling a lot better the next day.”
Good for the NBA Finals?
Thompson: “I believe so. I think so.”
Where do you think he’s grown this season?
Thompson: “He’s definitely improved and expanded his game. Being on Team USA last summer worked wonders for him. He put in the work with his peers to represent his country. It was an honor for him to represent the country. It makes your confidence go up several levels when you can put USA across your chest. That just really enhances you as a player, whether at the junior level as a 16 or 17 year old all the way up to the NBA level. When you have the chance to represent your country and put USA across your chest, it makes you feel like you’re special.”
Which players mentored him?
Thompson: “The veteran on that team were Rudy Gay. He was a real good mentor to Klay and he has been there before. Steph was there of course. But Rudy Gay put his arm around him and helped him out.”
What’s his mood leading into this?
Thompson: “He’s excited. He’s like a kid at Disneyland for the first time. That’s to be expected. I felt the same way. Even though I was 32 when I got there the first time, I felt like I was an 18 year old again myself. It rejuvenates you when you can get this team into the playoffs. It’s real exciting.”
When he was going through his shooting struggles earlier in the playoffs, what was your feedback to him?
Thompson: “Pretend you’re Kobe. Keep your confidence up. I always use Kobe as an example. He never loses his confidence in himself. Kobe is his idol. Kobe is a guy who can 5-for-25 and he never loses faith or confidence in his ability. He never shows it.”
Back when Klay signed his extension before the Lakers visited the Warriors, you said you thought this would motivate him even more to show that he is worthy of this extension. How do you think he has handled that?
Thompson: “When the team shows that kind of faith in you, which the Warriors did, Klay is studious enough to know that he wants to prove to everybody that he’s worth it. That’s the investment the Warriors put into him. I think he’s focused on that and wants to continue to improve to show the Warriors made a wise investment.”
How do you feel about their chances?
Thompson: “They’ve been the best team in the league all year. So why should it change now? I’m going to keep my faith in the Warriors. Obviously they have to play smart and play well, but they definitely are the favorites to win.”
In how many games?
Thompson: “Four wins. That’s all that matters. Four wins, buddy.”
You going to predict a sweep?
Thompson: “No sweep buddy (laughs). Not with LeBron around. He’s too great. Nobody will sweep LeBron. Just get four wins, no matter how you get it whether it takes four games or seven games.”
Do you think it will go seven?
Thompson: “With LeBron and a healthy Kyrie (Irving), I would be surprised if it didn’t go seven.”
How do they limit LeBron?
Thompson: “It’s easy for me to say to take him away from the basket and turn him into a jumpshooter. Make him shoot jumpers. You can do that by playing solid half-court defense and not turning the ball over. When you turn the ball over against the Cavs, he’s like American Pharoah breaking out of the gate. He’s on his way to the finish line. There’s nothing you can do. So if you take care of the ball, limit your turnovers and make Cleveland play half-court, at least you can try to slow him down.”
Even with LeBron being who he is, did Cleveland’s run surprise you given the hand they didn’t have Kevin Love, J.R. Smith was suspended a few games and Kyrie was limited with his injury?
Thompson: “They miss Kevin Love, of course. But when LeBron went back to Cleveland, I said I will be in Cleveland for Games 3 and 4. It doesn’t surprise me at all. People at Golden State, I told them that. They have asked me how do I know. I say it’s LeBron. Then I looked at the Warriors roster. I knew if they stayed healthy, they could get to the Finals.”
How did you think they had enough over Chicago?
Thompson: “I thought Chicago would be their toughest opponent. If Pau was healthy, who knows. We might be going to Chicago instead. But given good health if LeBron stays healthy with the additions they had, it would be enough. He’s that great. You could put LeBron on Minnesota and they’re a playoff team in the West. You put him on Philadelphia and he’s in the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s how good he is. He’s amazing. He’s the only player in history that can legitimately guard five positions.
He wouldn’t have been able to stop Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and Hakeem [Olajuwon]. But in today’s NBA with the lack of Hall of Fame centers that we have, he’s the only player that can legitimately shut down any position when he puts mind to it. He’s the only one in the history of basketball that could ever do it. Now Kareem is that great. Hakeem is that great. But we don’t have a Kareem or a Hakeem in the league anymore. That’s the advantage Cleveland has over everybody else.
Do you agree with Bill Laimbeer when he said he would take LeBron in his prime over Michael Jordan in his prime?
Thompson: “I can’t argue with that. He’s that great. But people can argue the other way with Michael. Both of these guys are amazing. LeBron is a freak of nature and has the basketball IQ and the talent to go with his physical skills.”
So who would you choose?
Thompson: “I’ll let them play one-on-one and then I’d choose the winner. Any great player can beat any great player one-on-one. There’s no shame if Michael Jordan lost to LeBron or Kobe one-on-one. That’s how great these guys are. They’re both valuable to their era and team equally. Michael was the best of his time. LeBron was the best of his time. Kobe was until he started getting older. We can’t forget about Kobe and how great he was in his prime from the time in his 20’s and early 30’s.
Kobe, LeBron and Michael and Kareem are the four greatest I’ve ever seen. That’s my Mount Rushmore of basketball, although I’m kind of ashamed of myself for keeping Bill Russell off. Why do we always forget about Bill Russell? He only won 11 [championships]. Everyone rips him for only averaging 16 or 17 points a game. So I asked him one time, ‘Mr Russell, why didn’t you score 25 to 30 points a game?’ He said, ‘I could’ve done that. But I wouldn’t have 11 rings now, would I?’ Winning was more important to him. We do a disservice and a lot of disrespect that we don’t mention Bill Russell. Bill Russell and Kareem are the greatest offer.
Was Kobe’s 81-point game the best you’ve seen in person?
Thompson: Oh yeah. Nothing compares to that. To score 81 points? We weren’t around to see Wilt’s 100, but 81 points is ridiculous. Nobody comes close to doing that now. Just the energy to takes to score 81 points as a guard is unbelievable. A big guy can stand there and lay it in, lay it in, lay it in. But Kobe had to be all over the place, facing different kinds of double teams and scoring from distance. That was surreal. They say never say never in sports. But I don’t think we’ll see that again in our lifetime.
Thompson: “That’s the record that will stand. Unless Steph shoots 30 3’s one game. That’s the only time that could happen.”
Well, based on how he’s played, maybe.
Thompson: “I guess it’s possible. If Steph goes off with 18 3’s in the first half, maybe it can be done. But that’s the only way, I think.”
How early did it hit you that Kobe was going to have a historic night?
Thompson: “In the third quarter when he got to 60. I thought he had a chance to get 100. We’ve seen guys with 50 before after three quarters. But when he got into the third quarter in the 60’s and could do anything he wanted, I thought, ‘If you put him out there in the fourth quarter, he can get another 20. It was weird.”
What has this offseason been like for you where you have a mix of emotions with the Lakers not being in the playoffs, while Golden State has been on a run?
Thompson: It’s been nothing but excitement with watching the Warriors. I feel like I’m back in the Finals again. But something is missing with the Lakers not being in the playoffs again. Something doesn’t feel right. It’s like when you leave home and you feel like you forgot something. It doesn’t feel right. That’s how it feels.
It’s tearing me up inside. I feel as nervous and apprehensive watching the Warriors play because of Klay as I would broadcasting the Lakers game. I want every shot to go in. It’s the same type of anxiety.”
Did you travel for all the games?
Thompson: “Just home games. I told Klay I didn’t want to go on the road until I went to Cleveland. I said it at the start of the playoffs. I’m tired of traveling. If I’m going to go n a road trip, I’ll go to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4. I have to wach by myself in a dark room. I’m no fun to be around. The only time I relaxed watching the playoffs was Game 3 in Houston when they were up by 30. Then I relaxed. I’m twisting and turning and churning on the couch and closing my eyes. I can’t take it.”
And you’ve said your wife won’t watch the game on TV with you. Why?
Thompson: “My wife thinks I’m too grumpy to be around. I wince with every miss. I whine about every turnover. She thinks I’m way too weird to watch the game with.”
How about when you go to the home games?
Thompson: “She still hates sitting by me. She always look at me and says, ‘You’re never happy!’ Well, I want to win by 30.”
Were you hoping for the Warriors to play the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals given their rivalry?
Thompson: “You never know. I remember one time as a player, I was hoping we’d play Phoenix in the second round [in 1990]. We got that and we got beat to the Suns. Ever since then, I’ve always said, ‘Be careful for what you wish for. Don’t wish for any matchups.’ Just let it happen. Last time, I wished for a matchup, the Lakers got beat. If I wished for a Clippers matchup with the Warriors, they may have lost.”
Would you have gone to the games at Staples Center?
Thompson: “The Clippers are always gracious to me. They give me a credential and I’ll sit near the broadcast booth. They’ve always been nice to me. I would’ve died with each possession whetger I’m in Oakland, in LA or on the couch. I’m like every other parent. You just want your son or daughter to compete in something, do well and come out the winner.”
What do you make of the Clippers’ collapse?
Thompson: “When they were up 3-1 and up 19, I was thinking about the matchups against the Warriors. I knew it would be tough to beat them. But the Clippers took their foot off the gas. We see that all the time in the playoffs. Teams get a 15 or an 18-point lead and then stop doing what they’re doing to get the lead.
They play to the score instead of continuing to play. Houston had nothing to lose and hoisted a bunch of threes and thought that was the only way they’d come back. When you’re down like that and have to come back, you relax when you shoot threes. Then they go in. There are so many last second three-point shots that go in. They think, ‘I have to shoot this because I have no choice.’ So they go in. When the Rockets were down 19, the pressure was off. Now they were loose. Then the Clippers were all tight.”