"It's even more so than LeBron": Mychal Thompson on Victor Wembanyama hype, Michael Jordan, Bahamas' national basketball team and more - Exclusive
Even if he sounded proud of his native country, Mychal Thompson didn’t sound ready to run a victory lap over the Bahamian men’s basketball team earning a berth in the Paris Olympic basketball qualifiers.
“Eric Gordon is one of the best shooters in the world and still a top-flight NBA player. Deandre Ayton is one of the top 10 centers in the world,” Thompson told Sportskeeda. “What they have done doesn’t surprise me. This is what they’re supposed to do because their talent demands it.”
Thompson spoke to Sportskeeda about various topics, including the Bahamas’ 4-0 record in the FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament, becoming the first foreign player to be drafted at No. 1, and perspective on French phenom Victor Wembanyama becoming the latest international prospect selected at No. 1. Thompson also shared some interesting Michael Jordan stories.
Mychal Thompson talks about expectations from Victor Wembanyama, performance of Bahamian National team, Scoot Henderson's future in the NBA and more - Exclusive
Editor’s note: The following one-on-one interview has been condensed and edited.
What do you make of the Bahamas’ run so far?
“This is not surprising. I always knew the Bahamas had this in them. The problem with Bahamas basketball is we couldn’t get all of our NBA-level talent together simultaneously to put the team together. Guys would either have other commitments or not commit to the team. I knew as long as we could get four or five NBA-related Bahamian players on the team and mix that in with the national guys, we could be a threat on the medal stands.”
What was the key for there to be more commitment?
“It all had to come from the individual and the want to represent your country. I never had the opportunity to represent my country in my 20s in my prime because we couldn’t get our team together. Bahamas basketball wasn’t as deep as it is now. So I never had the honor to represent my country. That’s my biggest regret in my basketball life – that I couldn’t put on the Bahamas jersey. I was hoping guys like Buddy [Hield] and Deandre [Ayton], Eric [Gordon], and Kai Jones could take advantage of the opportunity they have and represent their country. They wouldn’t want to be like me in their 40s, 50s, and 60s regretting that they never did it.”
How do you imagine what would’ve happened if you did?
Thompson: “We still talk about it. Me and my contemporaries whom I grew up playing basketball with, we always talk about what would’ve happened if we had put our talents together. A bunch of us back in the 70s and 80s were playing somewhere around the world. We had seven to nine guys that could play at the world level. But we were never able to put our team together. We always regret that we never had a chance to do that. To this day, we get together over beer and over dinners and we always talk about that.”
What do you think the Bahamian team could’ve accomplished had you all committed?
Thompson: “We definitely would’ve gotten out of the qualifying rounds. I don’t know if we would’ve won a medal at the Olympics. But I know we would’ve made the Olympics, knowing the talent that we had.
What’s jumped out to you on how the current team has played?
“Nothing. These are some of the best players in the world. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do. Eric Gordon is one of the best shooters in the world and still a top-flight NBA player. Deandre Ayton is one of the top 10 centers in the world. What they have done doesn’t surprise me. This is what they’re supposed to do because their talent demands it.”
Do you expect this will be the team for the 2024 Olympics?
Thompson: “No doubt about it, and they’ll add Kai Jones from Charlotte. There are a couple of other guys in the NBA that have family members that are Bahamian. So, they can add more talent.”
In 1978, you became the first international player that was drafted at No. 1. Since then, the league has grown so much globally. What does that mean to you that you were part of the beginning of the game’s international growth?
Thompson: “I’m real proud that I was the first foreign-born player to be drafted that high. But you have to give the late Commissioner David Stern all the credit. He expanded the game globally better than anybody else. You also have to give credit to Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan. They really made the game explode globally. Antarctica even watched basketball because of those guys that made the game expand. David Stern, Jordan, Bird, and Magic really took the game globally. That encouraged foreign players to follow in their footsteps.”
What role do you think you have had as an ambassador for the Bahamas?
Thompson: “I’m proud to be an ambassador. But as far as being a mentor, these young guys don’t want to listen to us old-timers. I don’t overstep my bounds and try to offer them any advice. Unless they seek it out, I’m not approaching them. I found in my experience in the NBA that a lot of the young guys don’t want to listen to us old hats. They think we’re all out of touch and the game has passed us by.”
Have they ever sought your advice?
Thompson: “I’m just a supportive ally. No one is coming to me and soliciting me for my advice. I wish they would. I’d be happy if they did. But nobody is going to go out of their way and ask me anything. It doesn’t hurt my feelings. This is a new era. These young men are doing their thing and are doing it very well. I have nothing to complain about.”
I understand Victor Wembanyama is an entirely different player and has received much more hype. But as a former No. 1 pick from another country, what was it like dealing with that pressure?
Thompson: “There are no similarities to me. When I came into this league, nobody cared. He has come into this league as the most hyped prospect in NBA history. It’s even more so than LeBron because of social media and the exposure he has had in the last few years. Even though he played in France, everybody in America and every basketball player in the world knows about him. To say he is the greatest prospect ever is ridiculous. They’re putting him over LeBron and even Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Wilt Chamberlain.
You can’t do that. That’s unfair to Victor. He’s going to be an excellent player. He’s going to be a Hall-of-Famer. He’s going to be a multiple-time All-Star. But give the kid a chance to grow before you claim him to be the NBA savior. He’s going to be great. But give him a chance to grow.”
What are reasonable expectations for him for his rookie season?
Thompson: “I hope he can play at least 75 games, or really every game. If the Spurs want, they can load-manage him, take it easy on him, and play him fewer minutes in some games as his body adjusts to the NBA. I expect him to be in competition for Rookie of the Year. But there are going to be a lot of good rookies this year. It will be between him and Scoot Henderson vying for Rookie of the Year.”
What’s impressed you about Scoot?
Thompson: “Scoot is good. If Portland trades Damian Lillard, that means the team is in his hands. He’s legit and fun to watch. He’s a combination of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Ja Morant, and Dwyane Wade.”
A lot of people in G League Ignite and Scoot’s trainer don’t sound concerned about his shooting. How do you look at that?
Thompson: “His shooting will improve. Everybody’s shooting gets better. That’s just drilling, practicing, and muscle memory. He’ll get better as a shooter. But he finds so many ways to score. So even as it takes time for his shot to catch up to his other skills, he’ll be fine.”
I understand you and Wembanyama don’t have any similarities. But you had success in the Big Ten and were drafted No. 1 for a reason. How did you deal with any pressure with that?
Thompson: “Obviously, you have to produce. But I didn’t have to hear it every day. We didn’t have a sports talk radio. We didn’t have social media and Twitter. We didn’t have people following every move you made. When I got drafted by the Blazers, they were already a veteran-laden team that was just two years removed from the Finals. I just had to go in there and sit in and not carry the team. We had veterans like Lionel Hollins, Maurice Lucas, Lloyd Neal, and Dave Twardzik. Those guys had been to the Finals. I just had to be there and fit in. They didn’t draft me to carry the team. Victor is going to be expected to carry that team. Maybe not this year, but at least next year.”
Speaking of the Blazers, Clyde Drexler recently said you implored the front office to draft Michael Jordan and pair him with Clyde. Is that true?
Thompson: “Why do you have to bring that up? Way to ruin my day! (laughs) Man, I used to talk about this with Magic [Johnson], Byron [Scott], and Michael Cooper in the locker room. I said, “Guys, could you imagine if Portland had drafted Michael Jordan and teamed him with Clyde Drexler and Fat Lever?’ This might be controversial. I don’t know if I should say this for public consumption. But I used to argue about this with Magic, Byron, and Coop. They were a great three-man backcourt. You can’t get any better than that except in Portland if we would’ve had Drexler, Lever, and Jordan. That would have been a better backcourt than the Lakers’ backcourt. Fat Lever is a triple-double point guard. Clyde Drexler is a Hall-of-Famer. Jordan is Jordan. I would tease Magic, ‘If we drafted Jordan, Showtime still would’ve won a title. But you wouldn’t have won five.’”
What would they say?
Thompson: “They used to always tell me, ‘We had Kareem!’ I had no argument against that.”
Is it true Michael Jordan idolized you and initially signed his first name with the spelling of your name?
Thompson: “Yeah. He told that story to my brother, Andy. He said he liked my name in print and started using it with the way I spelled it. But his mother made him stop doing it (laughs).”
What did you think when Andy told you that?
Thompson: “‘Are you kidding me?’ I was so flattered and honored. That’s one of the great compliments. The great Michael Jordan wanted to emulate me?! That was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received.”