Lakers’ Tristan Thompson finds a valuable role on his late mother’s favorite team
Following the death of his mother in January, the veteran center has provided leadership to his family and the Los Angeles locker room
SAN FRANCISCO – With his “dearest mommy in heaven,” Tristan Thompson plans to release doves in honor of his first Mother’s Day without her this weekend.
Andrea Thompson died on Jan. 5 of a heart attack at the age of 55 at her home in Toronto, Tristan Thompson told Andscape. The Los Angeles Lakers center told Andscape he planned to release doves on Sunday with his four children in remembrance of his mother.
“It is going to be tough, but I always have to be strong for my kids and my family as the leader for them and the backbone that my mom was for our family,” Thompson told Andscape. “They said releasing the doves hold a meaning of beauty and freedom, which is who she is. Free from all the pain and heartaches she’s endured and [shining] bright like the beautiful mommy she is.”
When Thompson was asked Wednesday night when he planned to memorialize his mother, he said he hoped to do so on Sunday.
“Hopefully we are not playing Sunday,” Thompson said. “But we will see.”
The Lakers couldn’t eliminate the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals on Wednesday night, losing 121-106 at Chase Center. The Lakers have a 3-2 series lead against the defending NBA champions going into Friday’s Game 6 in Los Angeles. A Warriors win in Game 6 will shift the series back to San Francisco for Game 7 on Sunday.
Thompson was a late addition to the Lakers, signing on the last day of the season on April 9. Before the signing, the 32-year-old said he needed time to grieve, heal and adjust to taking care of his three brothers as the suddenly new patriarch of his family. During that process, the 12-year NBA veteran said, he turned down three 10-day contracts during the regular season. Thompson’s teenage brother, Amari, has epilepsy, and he needed to find daily help for his sibling.
Thompson said in an Instagram post in February that he was still in “disbelief” a month after his mother’s death and was in “the deepest part of sorrow and grief.” He apologized for the “wrong’’ decisions in his life that caused her “embarrassment and pain.” Thompson also said he planned to love and protect Amari, and it was his duty as the oldest sibling to make sure his family was stabilized.
“With my situation with my mom passing away in January, I kind of just took a step back for a little bit,” Thompson said. “I just wanted to be there for my brother. So, teams called in January, but I’m just looking to make sure my family is good first and foremost before I pack my bag and go take a 10-day with somebody.
“Every day is just a grind. My mom was such a positive Christian. She had been a churchwoman, so she’s home. And she’s happy she’s home, and I feel like she did all she could on this earth. Dying at such a young age, you feel like she was taken early. But you know how this world is. There’s so much evil and darkness in the world. She’s in a better place, and I always feel like she’s too good for this world. So that’s how I look at it, as a positive.”
Thompson didn’t take a job with a team until April, and worked temporarily as an NBA analyst with ESPN in the meantime.
ESPN executives David Roberts and Greg Dowling hired Thompson in January primarily to provide commentary with LeBron James, who was within reach of the NBA’s career scoring record, ESPN NBA Today coordinating producer Hilary Guy said. The 6-foot-9, 254-pounder mostly made appearances on NBA Today and SportsCenter from the Los Angeles studio. Guy said Thompson spent time working with her on how to break down film on television. To prepare for NBA Today appearances, Thompson studied for the show just as he would for an NBA game. He once took Guy and NBA Today host Malika Andrews to a Canadian restaurant in downtown Los Angeles to learn more about the television business.
“I was all in. I was in two feet,” said Thompson, who also had television experience being on The Kardashians. “I told them, ‘I want to treat this like I treated basketball in the NBA, come to practice early, watch film.’ Me and Hilary, we watched film. We’d watch playback.
“So, we’d do a conference call at 8:30, I’d be there. If we’re on air at 12, I was there by 10:30 watching film with Malika. I’d sit down with Malika, and we’d run through the show or with the producers. Anything I do, I want to be great at it. I want to put my two feet in. And I know I’ve heard a lot of former players sometimes don’t come with that approach when it comes to that.”
Guy was impressed by Thompson’s work ethic, enthusiasm and ability to be coached.
“He was so eager and receptive to feedback, asked for it, wanted to know how he did, wanted to know what we thought,” Guy said. “And it’s great because you really want to work with somebody who wants to get better and wants to hear what we’re thinking as producers. His eagerness was really special.”
Thompson added that post-NBA he aspires to have a television career similar to former NFL star Michael Strahan, who is now a Good Morning America co-host and NFL analyst. Thompson added that Strahan mentored him on his ESPN television appearances.
“He’s the blueprint, and that’s who I want to be,” Thompson said. “That’s the GOAT in my eyes, Michael Strahan. What he’s able to do, his transition from being a Super Bowl champ with the Giants to doing, whether we’re doing game shows to doing Mike and Kelly, doing Good Morning America but also doing the first couple gigs with Fox. That’s exactly the blueprint that I want to follow.”
Thompson averaged 9 points and 8.4 rebounds in 730 regular-season games for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls from 2011 to 2022. The highlight of Thompson’s career was winning an NBA championship with the Cavaliers in 2016 with James. Thompson was not signed as a free agent before the start of this season, but says he never contemplated retirement, staying in shape by weight training in Los Angeles and working out with renowned basketball trainer Chris Johnson.
“Of course, it gets difficult sometimes, just because it gets so repetitive,” Thompson said of working out daily as an NBA free agent. “But I knew that at some point there would be light at the end of the tunnel, and someone is going to want to make a playoff push and know what I can bring to that team.
“I never thought about retiring because I know, not taking away from the guys that are on the other teams, but watching the bigs that we have in our league and the guys that are serviceable and playing, I could still play. I know I belong.”
The Lakers were looking for a reserve center after Mo Bamba suffered a high ankle sprain in March (Bamba told Andscape on Wednesday he expects to be available for the Western Conference finals if the Lakers advance). Los Angeles worked out free agent centers Thompson and Tony Bradley in March. Thompson had an edge as a veteran and former teammate of James’.
Thompson said his manager called Roberts and Guy to tell them officially he was leaving to play for the Lakers. Thompson said he loved his short stint with ESPN.
“I want to keep playing until they lock the door on me with no key,” Thompson said. “I want to keep playing because I love the game so much. This has always been my passion. And being able to be around the guys and go into practice and the camaraderie, there’s nothing like it. So, I want to keep playing for as long as I can. And when that time does come, and it comes to an end, then I definitely want to transition to TV.”
Said Guy: “I texted him, ‘Congratulations. I’m so excited.’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, but if you still need anything, just let me know.’ Of course, you wouldn’t want it to inhibit anything with Lakers, but he was still so willing to help and wanting to help, which again was very appreciated.”
In two games of the Western Conference semifinals, Thompson has scored seven points in 17 minutes. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said Thompson added an insurance center and a respected veteran presence in the locker room. Thompson was also reunited with his longtime friend James and their Los Angeles-based agent Rich Paul.
“Me and Bron’s connection go way bigger than basketball,” Thompson said. “I’ve known him since [I was] 17, so I’ve always had a crazy respect for him. There’s a brotherhood that’s deep. So, I just feel like he knows how to bring the best out of me, and I just know what he wants from a center or a veteran. We work like yin and yang. We understand each other even without saying stuff. So that’s just built over time, and I had this opportunity.
“For me, it’s however I can help this team, whether it’s my voice, coming into practice, helping the young guys learn how to be pros, holding our veterans accountable, [or] just giving whatever I’ve learned throughout the years. However I can help this team get to where they want to get to, that’s my purpose as well.”
Ham says the best thing Thompson has brought to the Lakers is his spirit.
“Whenever I would see him he’d have great, great energy,” Ham said. “He is a very high IQ, knowledgeable basketball player who had that championship DNA. I felt like we needed a veteran voice that was not going to just come in and be on the young guys, but everybody. He has the respect. It’s not just meaningless chatter. He has the respect of everyone, everything, every scenario. And these guys listen to him, especially our veteran players and coaches.
“He’s a huge plus for us. He brings a very productive element without actually playing on the floor. And [if] I need him, he can do that still. It’s great having him around.”
Being with the Lakers also has sentimental meaning for Thompson because his mother was a big Lakers fan, too.
“When my mom first moved to Canada from Jamaica, that’s when the Showtime Lakers were around. So, that was her favorite team,” Thompson said.
“It’s kind of crazy if you look at it. Mom is working up there. She’s working up there hard. Repping that purple and gold. The first basketball she ever watched was Lakers, so that worked full circle.”