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BAHAMAS' MAIN MAN : Mychal Thompson Someday Might Be the Prime Minister

February 22, 1987|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

For the moment, Mychal Thompson can't decide whether he'd rather be the next Chick Hearn or the next Lynden O. Pindling.

Now, anyone who has ever been within earshot of a Laker game knows about Hearn, and Thompson says he has an eye on becoming a broadcaster.

But Lynden O. Pindling's name is guaranteed to stump the most dedicated basketball fan--not to mention most anyone who hasn't come within a raft's-eye view of the Bahamas.

Pindling is the prime minister of that Caribbean nation, a place where "there are hoops hanging on every coconut tree," according to the Bahamas' only export to the National Basketball Assn. and newest member of the Lakers.

Those hoops weren't there until Thompson--who grew up playing soccer and became serious about basketball only after moving to Miami during high school--became a star, first as an All-American at the University of Minnesota, then as the No. 1 pick in the 1978 draft.

Now, the game is so popular that last summer Thompson paid $20,000 for a wooden basketball floor to be shipped over from Florida for an all-star exhibition game he arranged, a game featuring Magic Johnson, among others. The crowd mobbed the players--"People follow (the NBA) there with more passion than they do in the States," Thompson said--but the game was something less than a total success.

A monsoon struck, and though it passed quickly, the court was so slick that the game had to be halted in the second half.

But Thompson envisions the day when he may use his basketball popularity as a steppingstone to a political career, which brings us back to Pindling. Why not start at the top?

"Some day when (Pindling) becomes tired of being prime minister and wants to move on with his life, maybe that will open the door for other people to succeed him, and I wouldn't mind throwing my name into the hat," said Thompson, who looked something less than statesman-like the other day while lying on a hotel bed in Chicago, his Laker uniform still on and an ice pack on his right ankle.

A housekeeper who walked into the room took one look and fled. And this guy thinks he can win votes?

"If I have the popularity and support and respect from playing basketball, why can't I convert that popularity into politics, like Reagan did?" he said.

No one has ever accused Thompson--who is more reggae than Republican but can rival the President in charm and charisma--of lacking confidence.

Listen, for example, to what he had to say about Magic Johnson, who has been a teammate for a week but a friend for a decade, ever since Thompson tried to recruit him for Minnesota's Gophers.

"He was stuck on staying at home, poor kid," Thompson said. "He just didn't realize what a nice town Minneapolis is and how he would have been treated like a king up there."

They've been close ever since, and Magic made a point of going to Thompson's house when the Lakers visited Portland, Ore., Thompson's professional home for the first seven seasons of his pro career.

"I'd take all his per diem on the pool table," Thompson said.

"No contest. I can beat Magic in any sport except, of course, basketball. Anything else he wants to challenge me in, bring it on, because I'd like to teach him a lesson. He's still a young boy to me.

"The gauntlet has been thrown down, and I've slapped him with the glove forward and backward. Pool, backgammon, softball--tell him he can pick the sport as long as it doesn't have to do with a round basketball."

So OK, Thompson is having some fun at the expense of his buddy. But listen to what he has to say about a rival--the Boston Celtics' Kevin McHale, against whom, if all goes according to plan,542402671the NBA's final series this June.

After the Lakers had beaten the Celtics last Sunday in Thompson's L.A. debut, Thompson said that McHale deserved four or five technicals, not just the one he got.

Thompson expects that he'll hear back from McHale.

"He knows I respect his game and admire the way he plays--he knows I'm not trying to belittle him," said Thompson, who played with McHale at Minnesota. "But I was just expressing how it is on the floor when he's out there.

"(The Celtics) do cry a lot and expect a lot of calls to go their way, and you get tired of hearing it. Even though (McHale) is a friend of mine, I don't like hearing all that bitching and moaning and stuff. Be a man and take it."

Is Thompson, whose playfulness is as transparent as the Caribbean waters in which he speared fish as a child, to be taken seriously? At times, yes.

But this is the guy, remember, who changed the spelling of his first name so he would stand out, then came into the league having people believe he was a cousin to David Thompson, the North Carolina State All-American and budding NBA superstar who was undone by drugs.

"The media started that," Thompson said. "I just never bothered to deny it."

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