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No excuses from Mychal Thompson after Klay Thompson's indiscretion

T.J. SIMERS

Lakers broadcaster Mychal Thompson doesn't dodge his radio show duties and speaks frankly about a parent's hurt after hearing of the news.

March 05, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Washington State basketball player Klay Thompson offers an apology to fans before the UCLA game on Saturday in Pullman, Wash.
Washington State basketball player Klay Thompson offers an apology to… (Dean Hare / Associated Press )

For any parent, it's the dreaded phone call.

"My son never calls at 7 in the morning," says Mychal Thompson. "When I saw his number, right away I was saying to myself, uh-oh, and I hope nobody is hurt.

"I answered, 'What's wrong?' Not hello, good morning, just 'What's wrong?'"

Thompson is a former Laker, a broadcaster for the team and a father of three boys off on their own.

"That's how I heard about it; Klay called," he says. Klay is his middle child and the leading scorer in the Pac-10 while playing for Washington State. "He says, 'Dad, I screwed up. I was pulled over and cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession.'"

It's been hours since the phone call, but Thompson still feels the sting. "It's like a punch to the gut. Or even lower," he says. "I asked him one question: Was it worth it?"

What happens next is extraordinary.

The schedule calls for Thompson to go on the radio as a substitute for Max Kellerman. He never hesitates; he shows up for work.

"No one can hide in this information age," he says.

He's joined by Mark Willard, who is both compassionate and direct in his questioning. Thompson spends the next two hours speaking to a parent's disappointment when blindsided by a child's poor decision.

"I thought he was better than that," Thompson tells the audience. "I want to hug my son and I want to punch his lights out. Or do both. I'm just so mad. Maybe he's too old to be spanked, just turning 21 a month ago, but I sure feel like spanking him."

Washington State suspends his son, keeping him from playing against UCLA. It's a huge game for the Cougars and their chances of making the NCAA tournament. It's a game that UCLA goes on to win in overtime.

"He let down the whole school, his coach, his teammates, the students," Thompson says. "He didn't have the maturity and responsible behavior to know what this game means to Washington State.

"He'll have to walk around campus now with a scarlet 'M' on his forehead. It's a huge mistake."

There is no equivocation, no excuses offered on behalf of his son. As the day goes on, it gets no better. His son will not answer his phone calls.

"Maybe he's taking a really long shower," Thompson says, but dad already knows better. "Klay just talked to his brothers 10 minutes ago. He doesn't want to talk to me, and I don't know why. Maybe I'll get Kobe's cell so his number pops up. He'll take his call and then it will be me."

A teammate of Klay's was suspended for a game earlier this season after being caught with marijuana.

"I talked to Klay about his teammate's suspension," Thompson says. "I said how could he be that stupid? And Klay tells me, 'Yeah, I know.'"

Thompson says he's had similar talks with all his sons, hearing each of them say in response, "That's stupid messing up like that." It makes this so much more difficult to understand.

Thompson has a son playing basketball at Pepperdine, another climbing the ladder in the Chicago White Sox organization. He believes they have dealt with temptation, but have remained strong.

"I thought Klay would be strong," he says.

Thompson grew up in the Bahamas, some folks probably rolling their eyes, quick to conclude dad might say one thing, but have done another while growing up.

"Marijuana was plentiful in the Bahamas," he says. "I was around it since high school, but I was never tempted. I never did illegal drugs. I figured my sons would be the same."

But now Klay says he's tried marijuana "a few times," when his dad asks.

"It's another kick below the belt," Thompson says.

When he talks on the radio earlier in the day, his emotions are fresh and raw. He says his son is "stupid" because he has hurt his mother, his brothers, coach and teammates. He also hurt his old man.

But then Kellerman joins the discussion.

Kellerman makes it clear he believes marijuana is no big deal. "A little weed in the car," is how he puts it.

It's his radio show, his opinion, but perhaps another time. This is something special, Thompson talking about the bond between father and son and what happens when it's breeched.

"I'm more upset he wasn't better at concealing the weed in the car," Kellerman says. "I want to party with Klay."

Thompson is talking about the heart-wrenching consequences of letting loved ones down, while also second-guessing how much time he has spent with his son.

His advice for other parents, "Be nosy. Check their drawers, their wallets …"

It becomes must-hear radio for any child who doesn't understand the damage done to others when not making the proper decision. "The repercussions," as Thompson keeps saying.

But rather than join the audience and appreciate Thompson's candor, Kellerman bangs on the theme, "What's the big deal?" He tells everyone the kid was just sitting in his driveway. He asks, "What kind of risk was he taking?"

How many kids are listening now?

The police tell ESPN that a cop noticed one of the lights out on Klay's car while Klay was driving through his neighborhood. When he pulls into his driveway, a cop smells marijuana and finds 1.95 grams of marijuana in the vehicle.

It's a small amount, but too much for Thompson.

"He's driving; he's not sitting there counting the stars," says Thompson. "Was he driving under the influence? That would take it to a whole other level. Thank goodness there's no mention in the police report."

As upset as he is, Thompson is quick to say. "This doesn't make Klay a bad person.

"My friends who did drugs weren't bad people — just getting high. Even if it's just marijuana, as some people say, it can destroy a lot of dreams. Klay knows better now, but I just thought he was smarter than this.

"That's the disappointment."

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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