May 22, 2020

'The Last Dance' exec rekindles memorable PBA stint

FOR former Tanduay import Andy Thompson, the PBA was his 'Last Dance.'

Thompson played through a partially torn ACL while suiting up for the Rhum Masters during the 1986 Open Conference and by the time his stint was over, so was his playing career.

The brother of two-time NBA champion Mychal Thompson - and uncle to Golden State sharp shooter Klay Thompson - never played again and retired after the career-ending injury.

Following the incident, he returned to the U.S and began a career in television production with NBA Entertainment, where eventually he laid down the blueprint on the blockbuster sports documentary series 'The Last Dance' that chronicled the basketball career of the legendary Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls' shot for their sixth and final NBA championship during the 1997-98 season.

But even 34 years after, Thompson, now the NBA Entertainment vice president for production and executive producer of 'The Last Dance,' still has vivid memories of his short but sweet stint in Asia's first ever play-for-pay league.

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The big man from the Bahamas said he came over as an import replacement at a time the Rhum Masters were gunning for a grand slam, having won the Reinforced and All-Filipino championships earlier in the season.

His first and only PBA stint didn't even come easier as Thompson arrived after Tanduay lost its first four outings and had just dismissed an import who carried a better playing credential than him.

"They just cut Benny Anders - a former teammate of Manila Beer import Michael Young at the University of Houston - and I told them (Tanduay management), what do you expect me to do? He's averaging 30 (points) and 17 (rebounds), and you cut the guy," recalled Thompson in an interview during an episode of Republika Huddle and posted by NBA Philippines.

"And I never averaged 30 (points) in a major league like that."

But Thompson bonded well with fellow import Rob Williams and the rest of the Rhum Masters that victories finally came by, guaranteeing his contract and stay with the team for the rest of the conference.

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"I became their lucky charm," said Thompson, who even showed a personal memento of him gracing the cover of a local sports magazine that same year.

Tanduay made it deep into the tournament, advancing as far as the semifinals, but not fortunate enough to earn a finals berth. The team later settled for a fourth place finish as it lost to Great Taste in the battle for third.

A product of University of Minnesota, Thompson averaged 20 points and 13 rebounds in his entire campaign with the Rhum Masters and bravely played his last few games wearing a brace due to the partial torn ACL he suffered.

During his entire stay, one fellow import struck him the most.

"There was a guy in the league back then, who was named Billy Ray Bates, the Black Superman," he told the show hosted by Nikko Ramos and Boom Gonzales. "There was nobody who could stop that guy. He was dominant."

Bates teamed up with Michael Hackett to give Ginebra San Miguel its first ever PBA championship at season's end.

Thompson also remembered well some of his great teammates such as four-time MVP Ramon Fernandez, Freddie Hubalde, and Padim Israel.

"Freddie Hubalde was another one of my really close friends," he said of the former MVP and Crispa stalwart. "He was a Christian player at that time, he gave me a lot of spiritual support and I needed that from him."

More than two decades upon retirement, Thompson managed to make a return trip to Manila and document the first ever NBA pre-season game here between the Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets.

"When I found out that there will be a game played there, I signed up immediately," he said of the 2013 event held at the Mall of Asia Arena.

While he didn't have the chance to reconnect with his former teammates, the brief visit brought back a lot of good memories for him.

He considered his stint in Asia's pioneering pro league as 'unbelievable.'

"To me, it was the most fun I've ever had playing basketball in my life," Thompson said.(RG)