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Let’s Appreciate a Laker: Mychal Thompson, the lifer

Mychal Thompson is a Lakers legend, on and off the court.

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Los Angeles Lakers: Mychal Thompson Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images

Editor’s Note: For as long as the NBA season is stopped, we’ll be taking a look back at players from Lakers history that we can’t stop thinking about. Today, we remember Mychal Thompson.

Mychal Thompson’s playing career ended a month before I was born, so I did not first become aware of him as a player. Instead, I first discovered Thompson’s Twitter account a few years ago, an irreverent place full of dad jokes, dry humor and where spelling things correctly isn’t really the point:

Why is his handle @champagennuts? Well, because he likes champagne and nuts. Why shud All Men hav Andre Iguodala Arms? It doesn’t really matter, because it’s hilarious.

Seriously, these are just from the past couple days. If you don’t like them, well, we just don’t share the same sense of humor:

I soon found out that Thompson was more than just a Twitter presence I knew I immediately needed to turn alerts on for, though (and seriously, turn on alerts for his account. Those push notifications almost never fail to brighten my day). Thompson is also an accomplished radio broadcaster who currently does color commentary for Lakers games on ESPN 710, where his unique, understated humor also often shines through.

He was also, as as much as anything, a hell of a basketball player.

Thompson’s most individually productive years came as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, where he averaged 16.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per game after being the first internationally born player to be taken with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft in 1978 (Thompson was born in the Bahamas).

After seven seasons in Portland in which the Blazers never got over the hump, Thompson was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in June of 1986. After half a season or so of being there, the Lakers decided that Thompson was the missing piece to their title puzzle, trading Frank Brickowski, Pétur Guðmundsson, a 1987 first-round pick and 1990 second-round draft pick for Thompson at the 1987 trade deadline.

Once in L.A., Thompson’s individual statistical production plummeted, but the team also won the next two titles. While the then-32-year-old Thompson wasn’t the driving force anymore on a team that featured Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, as Laker Film Room founder and The Athletic video analyst Pete Zayas explains, Thompson was still one of the keys to putting the Lakers over the top, and helping Johnson and the showtime Lakers finish with five rings instead of three.

“The 1986 Lakers lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Houston Rockets, led by the famed Twin Towers duo of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson. They carved up the Lakers in that series, averaging 51.4 points per game. Kareem was the only credible center the Lakers had on that team, and he was 38 years old,” Zayas wrote in a text message.

“The Mychal Thompson acquisition at the following trade deadline gave the team a necessary big body with some scoring touch around the rim, who could bang with the bigger front lines of that era. That allowed for a reduction in Kareem’s minutes as well, which paid dividends in the playoffs. They played together a bit, but Thompson was essentially Kareem’s direct backup.”

And Thompson wasn’t just a perfect fit for what the Lakers needed, either. The Lakers were exactly what he wanted, too. His favorite player growing up was Jerry West, and he described to the L.A. Times in 2013 that he felt being dealt to L.A. “validated” him as a player, how “nothing” can compare to beating the Boston Celtics in that first year after watching them stop West from winning title after title, and said that the two championships he and the Lakers lost bother him far more than he celebrates the two he won.

Thompson being Thompson, he also joked(?) that his two championship rings are buried on a beach in the Bahamas because “in the islands, we don’t trust the banks so we have to bury our treasure,” then adding that he had a map to them like the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Thompson only played four-and-a-half seasons in L.A., but as all Lakers fans know, this team embraces their winners. Thompson was certainly that, and deserves to be remembered for it, just as much or more than he’s known as Klay Thompson’s dad or as a Twitter personality.

Thompson is eligible for Hall of Fame induction year after year, although he likely won’t make it. He may not ever get a statue, either, or even have his jersey retired. But he’s a huge part of why the Lakers’ banner count sits at 16, and he’s been a hilarious voice for the team in his retirement. All of that deserves to be appreciated, and if none of that sells you, all Lakers fans can probably get behind one of his latest takes:

That case may not be quite as iron-clad as Thompson and his fellow Lakers supporters would like, but his status as a Lakers legend, on and off the court, is air tight.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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