By Carlos Toro
For former Rider men’s basketball great Jason Thompson, playing in the NBA had always been a dream of his. He’s accomplished great things in his eight-year career in the NBA and now he can add one more to his already impressive résumé: Rider Hall of Fame.
Thompson was inducted into the Rider Athletics Hall Of Fame on June 11 alongside Jim McKeown ’81 (soccer), Kevin Connolly ’75 (baseball), Don Fisch ’08 (wrestling) and Sarah Artale ’03 (soccer). Thompson said that the honor was not something he expected to receive when he decided to join Rider more than a decade ago.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” Thompson said back in June when he was being inducted. “When I signed my letter of intent, you don’t ever think about stuff like this. You’re nervous when you’re a freshman, but I was close to home, so there was some comfort there. You just want to fit in, be a guy that is going to succeed in the classroom and on the court as well.”
His brother, Ryan Thompson, a former Rider and current pro basketball player in his own right, said that he was proud that his brother was being celebrated for his accomplishments.
“This night was all about Jason and the other inductees leaving a positive legacy for Rider,” Ryan Thompson said. “Our family couldn’t be any prouder of Jason.”
Thompson said that he credits former head coach and current Rider Athletics Director Don Harnum for giving him a chance to show his worth and take advantage of the opportunity presented to him.
“I don’t think anyone can write the script of how this goes,” Thompson said. “That’s what makes life so great. You never know what’s going to happen. I grew nine inches while I was in high school and three more in college. I was a guy that came off the bench in my first year as a freshman since we were so senior-heavy then. Coach Harnum, one day, said to me, ‘Actions speak louder than words, because you’re starting tonight.’ I had a double-double in a big game and started ever since. When my opportunity got called up, I responded, and the rest was history.”
For the vast majority of his pro career, Jason played for the Sacramento Kings and became the franchise leader in games played. He was picked in the first round of the 2008 NBA Draft. In his seven seasons with the Kings, he averaged 9.4 points and 6.9 rebounds, starting over 400 games and appearing in more than 525. His best season came in 2009-10, when he averaged 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest.
This past season saw him being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and the Golden State Warriors, where he spent the first half of the season and was a part of the team’s 39-4 record to start the season, which is the best start of any team in NBA history. He then spent the second half of the season with the Toronto Raptors, where he competed in the playoffs for the first time in his career, going as far as the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Raptors were two games away from competing in the NBA Finals.
“It’s been amazing,” Thompson said. “It’s not a storybook situation in terms of how I got to the NBA. Did I have goals of coming to the NBA? Of course. Obviously, [getting to the playoffs] has never happened. But I tried to make the best of that situation. I broke the odds of guys only staying for three and a half, four years in the NBA and I finished my eighth season, and it’s a blessing. Like I said, going into the playoffs for the first time, regardless of the adversity of having seven different coaches in one organization, that’s even unheard of. Being the all-time leader in games played in an NBA organization, you just want more of that stuff.”
Thompson has agreed to a deal that will send him overseas to China, where he will play for the Shandong Golden Stars this upcoming season. Thompson said that he wished to play in the NBA for at least five more years, but all in all, he is happy with where he is in life.
“For me, I’m blessed to have a practice facility named after me,” Thompson said. “I’ve been doing a lot of things with my brand. I have a foundation that has branched off to working with the American Heart Association. It is an amazing feeling being where I am in my life and career.”