PULLMAN – On a day that was supposed to be a tribute to Klay Thompson, the former Washington State star used every opportunity he had to pay back the respect and appreciation that came his way throughout a crimson and gray gala at Beasley Coliseum.
“I miss you!” a fan belted from the lower bowl Saturday as Thompson spoke to a crowd of 10,380.
“Aww, I miss you guys, too,” Thompson said.
On the day Washington State lifted his No. 1 jersey into the rafters, Thompson was thoroughly worshipped by the largest Beasley crowd in nearly a decade. But as Thompson has shown through the years, bringing the NBA Finals trophy back to Pullman in 2016 and regularly attending WSU football and basketball games in the Bay Area, the adoration goes both ways.
One of the greatest shooters in NBA history came back to the Palouse this weekend to remind the Cougars that Pullman was not only where he polished his 3-point shot, but where he matured as a young man, permitting him to become an international hoops icon who has his own sneaker, a contract worth $190 million and three world championships.
“I know we’ve done amazing things with the Warriors,” Thompson said. “… But before that started, I came to Pullman and I felt the love here. Before everything happened internationally.”
Thompson’s celebration, coupled with Washington State’s 89-76 victory over Oregon State, sent Pullman into a crimson frenzy that was reminiscent of ESPN College GameDay’s first visit to the Palouse in 2018.
We captured a timeline of the day’s events, from Thompson’s arrival to Beasley Coliseum, to his farewell nearly 3 hours later.
Washington State guard Isaac Bonton (10) heads to the basket during the second half of a college basketball game, Sat., Jan. 18, 2020, in Pullman, Wash. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
12:09 p.m.: Mychal Thompson, the 6-foot-10 former Laker and two-time NBA champion whose professional career moved his family around the West Coast, steps out onto Friel Court, where white-and-crimson T-shirts bearing his son’s likeness have been draped over each of the 11,671 seats.
“It’s very overwhelming, it’s very honoring and it’s a blessing to see him honored this way for his time at Washington State,” Mychal said. “I know he loved every minute he was here.”
In 1978, Thompson’s No. 43 was retired at the University of Minnesota, where the long, lanky Bahamian center spent four years before he became the first foreign-born player to be taken first overall in the NBA draft.
Over the years, Klay and his father discussed the potential of WSU retiring the player’s jersey. Mychal had sound advice for his son: When it happens, don’t take the honor for granted.
“He was asking me about when they did it at Minnesota, because it really is special because you’re up there forever,” Mychal said. “And once they put your jersey in the rafters, you’ve got to make sure you honor that jersey and that ceremony and represent the school in the right way.”
12:19 p.m.: A black Chevrolet Suburban pulls up to the entrance of Beasley Coliseum. Zaza Pachulia, the former NBA center who played on Golden State’s 2017 and ’18 championship teams and remains a close friend of Thompson, emerges from the front seat while two-time league MVP and Stephen Curry opens the backseat door.
Thompson may have tipped Curry off about Palouse weather conditions in January, because the Warriors star arrived wearing a hooded snow jacket, beanie, scarf and Under Armour-branded gloves.
“Welcome to Pullman, man,” one fan said.
“Appreciate it,” Curry replied.
Curry, Pachulia and Warriors owner Joe Lacob made their way into the arena, greeting WSU President Kirk Schulz and Athletic Director Pat Chun as they were escorted into Thompson’s gameday “lounge.”
12:58 p.m.: Minutes after Thompson makes his way out to the court, he’s greeted on the baseline by new WSU football coach Nick Rolovich, who presents Thompson with an anthracite No. 1 football jersey. Curry and Pachulia also received WSU football jerseys embroidered with their names and Golden State numbers.
Later in the game, as Rolovich is being interviewed by the Pac-12 Networks, Thompson creeps into the frame and videobombed the coach, blurting, “Future Rose Bowl champs, baby. Future Rose Bowl champs. I’m going to be there to see it.”
“He can be on the sideline,” Rolovich responded.
1:09 p.m.: Freshman guard Noah Williams muscles his way into the paint and tosses a short jumper off the window and into the hoop, giving the Cougars a 10-8 lead over the Beavers just 4 minutes into the game.
Williams lifts both arms and flexes his biceps as an animated Thompson jumps out of his seat and onto the court, imitating Williams by flexing his own arms.
1:11 p.m.: The first of two video messages from Thompson’s former coaches appears on the jumbotron.
Duke’s Mike Kryzyewski, who coached Thompson on the United States gold medal-winning Olympic team, tells the player, “We’re proud of you and it’s been an honor for me to have coached you on the USA team. … I’ll tell you what, I want you on any team I have the opportunity to coach.”
Virginia’s Tony Bennett, who recruited Thompson to Pullman and coached him for one season, later said the two-time All-Pac-10 guard was “one of those very few players I coached that, when I saw you, I just knew in my heart you had a chance to touch greatness.”
1:30 p.m.: Thompson needs a few more chairs on the baseline, to accommodate the group of former college teammates that traveled to Pullman for the ceremony. Among them: Abe Lodwick, Ben Loewen, Ryan Bailey, Daven Harmeling, Charlie Enquist, Nick Witherill and Steven Bjornstad.
“We do stay in touch and I always want to know how he’s doing,” Lodwick said. “We don’t really talk about basketball and I think that’s good. … Whenever we are in the same town where he’s got a game going on, we’ll typically grab a bite to eat and catch up. It’s just like old times. That’s great. It’s really fun to be able to keep in touch.”
Enquist, a forward for the Cougars from 2007-12, said Thompson’s mental development in Pullman allowed him to take on a leadership role as a sophomore and junior.
“You could tell during games he was, mentally, together enough to develop into the player he’s become,” Enquist said. “… He developed the mental aspect, the skill to lead a team. I think he developed that at Wazzu, then took it to the NBA. As we all know, he’s developed that even more as an NBA champion.”
1:56 p.m.: With 3 seconds left in the half, WSU’s Isaac Bonton dribbles the ball just past half court and throws up a deep 3-pointer. Thompson and Curry come unglued from their courtside seats and raise their hands into the air as Bonton’s heave beats the buzzer and falls into the hoop, securing a 46-40 halftime lead for the Cougars.
Golden State’s “Splash Brothers” parade around the court as WSU players head into the locker room – Thompson leaping with excitement and bumping chests with a friend before punching his fist into the air.
2 p.m.: The lights at Beasley dim as the halftime ceremony begins. Thompson steps onto the floor, walking between two large boxes that spit out fireworks as he proceeds to the center of the court, where Chun is standing next to a framed Thompson jersey.
The man of the day is handed the microphone, delivering a heartfelt speech in which Thompson talks about the 2008 team that lured him to Pullman, the influence of his late grandfather and the role Pullman had in developing him on and off the basketball court.
Of Bennett’s ’08 Cougars: “I’ll never forget in 2007 when Tony Bennett and Ben Johnson came to my parents’ house, sat on the couch and I just fell in love with what Tony was speaking. He put together a vision. … So I look up here, I see the 2008 Sweet 16 team. I fell in love with that team, man. I just saw how it was a brotherhood, that’s what I saw from afar. They only might have been friends for a couple years, but it seemed like they grew up together because they were so tight.”
Of his grandfather, Jerry Thompson: “He’d be sitting 12 rows up, there wasn’t a ref he ever liked, there wasn’t another team he ever liked. That man would go toe-to-toe with anybody that came after his grandson. Everybody asks where I get my competitive fire … it definitely came from my grandfather.”
And of Pullman: “No matter what uni I put on – hopefully a Warriors for the rest of my career – I will always be a Coug. I’m so grateful for where basketball has taken me. It’s taken me to China, Brazil, New Zealand, Spain, around the world. But there’s nowhere like Pullman. I love you and go Cougs!”
2:08 p.m.: Thompson wants the microphone back. He left a few people out.
“I forgot to thank my parents,” he said. “My mom, of course my dad who taught me the fundamentals. I’ve got to thank moms for running me around to all the practices growing up. Man, we used to give her a lot of trouble, me and my brothers. On that note, I’ve got to thank Trayce and Mychel. If it was not for them, I would not be here right now.”
Trayce, a former major-league outfielder, wasn’t able to attend Saturday, but Mychel, who played basketball at Pepperdine and spent two years in the NBA before hopping around the G League, sat courtside with father Mychal and mother Julie.
“It’s awesome. I never was able to come up here when we were in college,” Mychel said. “So to finally see it and all the love he’s getting is amazing.”
Mychel knew enough about Pullman and the Palouse, though.
“(Klay) described it for what it is,” he said. “Pullman, there wasn’t much to do, but that’s probably why he’s so good at what he does, because he was in the gym a lot.”
Of the prestigious honor of having a jersey retired, Mychel said, “It’s definitely something he always wanted. That’s what everybody dreams when you’re young and you start playing basketball, so to actually see it happen, it’s just amazing. … I couldn’t be more proud.”
2:12 p.m.: Thompson heads back into the bowels of Beasley Coliseum for a larger-than-normal scrum of reporters, joking that “When I was here, it was just Vince (Grippi) and his little recorder.”
Thompson is asked how he changed in three seasons at WSU.
“Umm, I think each year in Pullman I had to grow up,” he said. “… My freshman year I had so many great leaders on our team as far as our veterans. Daven (Harmeling), Taylor Rochestie was such a great team player and such a great point guard. Then when they left, I had to kind of step into that spotlight. That main go-to guy role. And I took my lumps and had my slumps, but those made me so much stronger.”
He also explained how his time in Pullman, where Thompson was the most recognizable person in town for the better part of three years, helped him grow in to becoming a global basketball celebrity.
“Being the big man on campus in Pullman, there’s nothing better,” he said. “You got into every party, you got by every line and it was just so fun to have that ability to inspire people, and I felt that even before I got to the NBA, playing in the Palouse. Especially to the people who live in Pullman, how much this institution means to them, that’s who I played for.”
2:34 p.m.: It’s Thompson’s day, but midway through the second half, the NBA guard salutes another record-setting WSU standout: women’s basketball senior Borislava Hristova, who became the program’s all-time leading scorer last week at California by scoring 1,969 points.
Hristova is given a white basketball, printed with her record, and takes a photo with Thompson during the media timeout.
3:12 p.m.: Immediately after the Cougars put the final touches on a 13-point win, Thompson makes his way to the first row of the student section and spends a minute signing autographs. He then joins the team by its bench, embracing every player before taking a photo next to the No. 1 banner that will remain in the Beasley rafters.
Thompson chats with Isaac Bonton on the heels of a 34-point night for the guard and takes a few last photos before filing out of the arena.
“That was awesome,” Bonton said of the occasion. “Just having Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, especially what Klay means to Pullman and means to WSU. It was really special to have that environment, too, and they just kept pushing for us and that’s awesome to have two NBA superstars, Hall of Famers, right at your side.”
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