As he climbed through the highest levels of basketball, Mychal Thompson took things in stride.
When he arrived at the University of Minnesota in 1974, he didn't envision the direction his life would take: Leaving the school as the Big Ten career scoring leader, being drafted No. 1 overall by the Trail Blazers in 1978, winning two NBA titles and becoming a renowned color commentator for the Los Angeles Lakers.
He was just a young man, taking the next step.
"1974 was a whole different time," Thompson said. "It's not like how it is now, when kids are in the eighth grade thinking about going pro."
He was out to test himself, joining the Gophers during an era of electric play — and NCAA sanctions — under Bill Musselman and Jim Dutcher.
"Williams Arena was packed every game," Thompson recalled. "It was such a tough conference that the whole atmosphere was exciting and every game felt like an event."
He was at the center of it alongside teammates such as Ray Williams, Osborne Lockhart and Kevin McHale.
"Everything was a natural easy transition — except for one thing," Thompson said with a pause and a laugh. "Coming from the Bahamas, the winters, the weather, the snow, that was the only thing that was tough for me to get used to."
Opponents never got used to him. He would score 1,992 career points and grab 956 rebounds at the U. His play was so dynamic that Minnesota retired his jersey in the middle of his final home game.
"As you're going through it sophomore, junior, senior, you realize you're progressing and getting better as a player and setting new standards at the university — so you are aware, you are conscious of it," Thompson said. "But if a player is going through it now, it's talked about on sports radio 24/7, it's covered all over social media. Back then it was just Sid Hartman and the Tribune talking about it."
He looks back on that era with warmth. It led him to the NBA, to a life in professional sports, and to a family he built with his wife, Julie, that has continued that tradition — their oldest son Mychel is a coach for the Warriors, where middle son Klay stars as one of the best shooters in NBA history, and youngest son Trayce just signed a contract with the Dodgers.
"Every day I wake up and realize how blessed I have been because of basketball," Thompson said.
That blessing traces back to the U.
"The privilege to go to the University of Minnesota has never left me," he said. "My blood is maroon and gold, too."
. . .
Thompson will be inducted into the Star Tribune Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony Wednesday evening at the Mall of America. More information about that free event is here.