So you want to raise a pro athlete? Mr. and Mrs. Thompson have some tips
Nature vs. nurture. Bloodlines vs. batting coaches. God vs. god complexes.
In short, are elite athletes born or are they made?
For one, Mychal Thompson says you have to let it happen. He guided. He encouraged. Now the former “Showtime” Laker, and father to three pro athletes, has become a West Coast version of Archie Manning.
“Archie Manning? That’s a bit of a stretch,” his wife, Julie, says with a laugh.
More from Mom in a moment. For, if you subscribe to the theory that athletes are born, not made, you have to take into account Julie’s bloodlines. And her stamina, in racing three active kids all over town, to baseball, soccer, basketball, even gymnastics.
“I had them in gymnastics for a few years because they kept jumping off of things,” she recalls.
This isn’t a sports story so much as it’s a parenting story, the story of Mychal and Julie Thompson, parents to three strapping sons, who happen to be professional athletes.
“My kids are all late bloomers,” their mom says.
You’ve heard of Klay, 26, her “late bloomer” middle child. The sweet swisher of the Golden State Warriors … smoking-gun sidekick to Stephen Curry.
You’ve heard of Trayce, 25, who proved early this Dodgers season that he could hit the crunch off a bowl of Wheaties. A bum lower back derailed a beautiful year. But son No. 3 shows big-moment moxie and the potential for a long run in the major leagues.
Add in oldest brother Mychel, 28, (yes, with an e, not an a) a Pepperdine star who had a stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers and continues to develop in the NBA Development League, and you have the ultimate parental three-pointer.
“They’re just normal kids,” Julie insists. “When they walk into the house, the first thing they say is, ‘Is there any food?’ ”
Home is south Orange County, where the family moved when the boys were teenagers. Before that, they lived near Portland, Ore., where the boys would play basketball in the rain and break so many windows that their mother was on a first-name basis with the glass repair folks.
On Monday, Mom and Dad will head off to Rio de Janeiro to watch Klay compete for the U.S. Olympic team – assuming they can find someone to watch Klay’s dog. Normal stuff. Like any parent, they have simple concerns. Are the kids sleeping? Who are they with?
“All I want is for them to be happy,” Julie says. “When I call, if I can hear the smile in their voice, then I’m OK.”
“It’s like Little League never ended,” Mychal says of watching his sons play pro ball.
Back story: Father of three boys is an NBA champ and later a broadcaster, always in airports, leaving Mom to get their three sports-crazed boys to practices and games.
So, it’s not so much the high-profile dad who set their athletic careers in motion, it’s their mom, Julie, herself a track standout and Division I volleyball player (Portland and University of San Francisco).
“She’s the best athlete in the family, and all the boys will tell you that,” Mychal says.
To raise one pro athlete requires piles of pixie dust and a stroke of lightning. God graces certain children with uncommon strength, savvy and quick-twitch nervous systems.
After that, it is up to the parents and coaches not to screw things up. In the often disenchanting world of youth sports, it’s refreshing to find a dad like Thompson, with less swagger than the average know-it-all at the local gym.
The former No. 1 overall pick has never been your typical jock. At one time, in his 20s, Thompson had aspirations of becoming prime minister in the Bahamas, where he was born and raised.
Instead, the NBA, and then broadcasting, seized his dreams. Though not as much as family did.
“Like any father of any children, you want them to find out what they are passionate about,” Mychal says. “I didn’t encourage one sport over another.
“I just told them that they have been given a gift and to respect that. I told them it doesn’t last long. Give everything you have to the sport.
“Basically, my boys have high-profile jobs,” Mychal notes. “My wife and I are proud of them, just like millions of parents out there with kids who work hard and do their jobs well.”
“I don’t like to use the word proud,” Julie says. “That makes it sound like we’re … I don’t know ...”
“Yesssss!” she says.
As for other parents, she’s seen it all – the meddling moms, the insane dads, who often live vicariously through the achievements of their 10-year-old shortstops.
“I used to sit back and watch them,” she says. “They have everything. Their son has straight A’s, but it’s still not enough.
“You can’t want it more than they do,” she insists. “You can’t want it more than the child.”
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