LOS ANGELES — Usually, Mychal Thompson would react to the Los Angeles Lakers’ play with animated words and body language in the broadcast booth. He would react to the Golden State Warriors the same way as he watched through the television screen.
When the Lakers and Warriors face each other in the Western Conference semifinals, however, Thompson will face dueling rooting interests while he serves a color analyst for KSPN-710. Will Thompson cheer for the Lakers after helping the Showtime Lakers win two of their five NBA titles? Or will Thompson root for the Warriors since his son (Klay) has cemented his whole 11-year NBA career there with four NBA titles?
“Just a great basketball game,” Thompson told The Sporting Tribune. “Either way, I can’t lose. If my son wins, I’m thrilled. If the Lakers win, I’m happy.”
Klay told reporters that he maintained uncertainty of his father’s rooting interest. But Klay added, “If I had to guess, probably his employer.” Not so insisted Mychal, who talked with The Sporting Tribune for an exclusive Q&A about the upcoming Warriors-Lakers series, Klay’s history against the Lakers and more.
Editor’s note: The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
What do you think of your Lakers facing the Warriors with Klay on the team?
This is probably going to be the most exciting playoff matchup. The last one was great with the Kings and the Warriors. But this is the marquee matchup of the playoffs. Obviously, there’s Boston and New York with the history of their franchises. But right now, this is the series that the non-invested fan probably has the most interest in watching.
And you’re an invested fan. What’s your rooting interest in this one?
It’s going to be an exciting series either way, whether the Lakers or the Warriors win. I think whoever wins this series is probably going to win the title. You have to respect Denver and Phoenix on the other side. But I think this series is going to be so good. It’s going to prepare the winner so much that they will be more battle tested coming into the West Finals.
Why do you think the Lakers or Warriors will win the title?
Because of the history of the two teams and the recent championships they both have. With the Lakers, they have it with LeBron [James] and Anthony Davis. They have been there and done that. LeBron is the ultimate competitor in the playoffs along with Steph [Curry], Klay and Draymond [Green]. There are leaders that are battle tested on both teams that have done it so many times. That makes it so unique.
Klay said “he’s really excited” to face the Lakers in the playoffs. What does this mean to you?
I’ve wanted this since 2011 since he was drafted. But it’s taken 12 years to materialize. I’m surprised. I thought it would happen numerous times by now
Who will you root for?
Just a great basketball game. Either way, I can’t lose. If my son wins, I’m thrilled. If the Lakers win, I’m happy.
Klay guessed you would root for the Lakers.
Klay is a down-the-middle kind of guy. But he always knows I want him to do well.
What are the family plans when Klay is in town?
I don’t like to bother him. He needs his space. He doesn’t need his old man hanging around. I’ll just mooch a dinner off of him in between games (laughs). That’s as far as it’ll go. I’ll just go to his house and eat.
What has it been like over the years to see Klay play against the Lakers?
It’s a thrill for me because the Lakers were his team as a kid. Kobe [Bryant] was his guy. For him to be able to play against the Lakers and play in LA and Crypto.com Arena, it has been most meaningful to him because of his affection for the Lakers’ franchise and for Kobe. Anytime school permitted, I would get him and my other two sons up here to Lakers games so they can appreciate the greatness of Kobe and Shaq. That was their era when they were growing up with Derek Fisher, Rick Fox and that whole crew. They saw what winners and what champions were like. They saw what it was like to play for the best franchise in basketball. They got to meet the guys. They were very nice to them and very accommodating. Shaq and Kobe were always that way. They were great mentors for kids. It wasn’t just for my kids, but for every kid.
How did Kobe mentor Klay as a youngster?
Klay used to be able to work out with Kobe in high school. He got to be on the same court with Kobe and go through drills and pick Kobe’s mind. That’s the best teaching tool any young player could ask for. You couldn’t ask anything better than actually being on the court and working out with Kobe and getting tips from him.
What do you remember about Klay’s first matchup against Kobe? (Bryant had 39 points, while Klay had 14 on Jan. 6, 2012)
It was one of my biggest thrills in broadcasting. I was so nervous. As a rookie, Klay was going against the great Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant used to torch 10-year veterans, let alone rookies. I just wanted Klay to hold his own. That’s exactly what he did. I was so proud of him and so impressed by that. He did that as a rookie going against his idol for the first time. I remember going against Kareem for the first time when I was a rookie. I remember how nervous I was. So, I was just hoping I could get out of that matchup with Kareem in one piece. I know exactly how it feels to go against your idol for the first time.
How did your matchup with Kareem go?
I held my own. He had 30 [points], and I had five (laughs). The fact that I can walk back to the locker room on two legs and not faint, for me that is holding my own. He only outscored me by 25! And I didn’t faint! For me, that’s a win.
Where does Klay’s 41-point performance against the Lakers in 2014 rank for you?
That’s the night Klay signed his rookie contract extension. Then he went out and got 41 [points] against Kobe and the Lakers on 14-for-18 shooting. That was impressive. He signed his contract in the locker room, basically. Then he went out and got 41 against the great Kobe Bryant. That shows you how mentally tough Klay is.
How do you evaluate how Klay handled the ups and downs in his full season since his two season-ending injuries?
Physically, he handled it great. The main thing was getting through the rigors without any setbacks. He was able to do that. That’s a huge success.
What did you make of Klay’s Game 7 performance vs Sacramento? He shot 4-for-19, but Steve Kerr praised him for his defense.
The great ones understand that basketball is not played on both ends of the floor. Too many people in the media get caught up on how many points you scored. They forget that 50% of the game is on defense. It’s just like with people criticizing Anthony Davis for not scoring a lot, but overlooking his Bill Russell-like defense that he’s playing in the playoffs. The frustrating part about basketball critics is your shot may be off, but you can still impact the game on defense.
All things considered, what’s your series prediction?
It’s going to be a long series. It’s going to come down to who plays the best defense. I have no idea who is going to win the series. Both teams are playing great. They showed their toughness in each series. This is a toss-up series.
Mark Medina covers the NBA for The Sporting Tribune. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.