Ex-import arrives to document NBA game

Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - NBA Entertainment vice president of production Andy Thompson, a PBA import with Tanduay in 1986, is arriving on Friday from New Jersey with a camera crew to begin work on a documentary culminating in the historic preseason game between the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers at the Mall of Asia Arena on Oct. 10.

Thompson told The Star in an e-mail the other day his focus in the early filming will be scenics, points of interest in Manila, the Mall of Asia Arena and basketball courts around the city. He said he hopes to interview Filipinos about their passion for the NBA and basketball in general. It will be the first game featuring two NBA teams ever to be played in the country. The Washington Bullets, now Wizards, came to town for a game against a PBA selection at the Araneta Coliseum in 1979 and several NBA stars played two exhibitions here two years ago during the league lockout.

Thompson teamed with Rob Williams as Tanduay’s import combination during the PBA Open Conference in 1986. Tanduay’s coach was Turo Valenzona and among Thompson’s teammates were Ramon Fernandez, Ely Capacio, Willie Generalao, Freddie Hubalde and Padim Israel.

“I am arriving on Friday and the following day, we’re going to be shooting all of the historic and important sights around Manila to support our broadcast and storytelling,” said Thompson whose older brother Mychal played on two Los Angeles Lakers championship teams in 1987 and 1988. “There are so many makeshift courts around the city that I would love to film. This will also give me a chance to see a lot of the sights I haven’t seen in over 27 years since I was there.”

For Thompson, it will be a homecoming of sorts. “Some of the fondest memories of my life were during my brief time playing in the PBA,” he said. “I was telling my nephew (Mychel, a former Cleveland Cavalier) just last month he should consider playing there instead of going back to the NBA D-League. It would be a great experience for him for so many reasons.”

Thompson said the first Filipino he’d like to meet upon landing is Fernandez. “He’s a legend in Manila and I consider it an honor to have played with him,” said Thompson whose nephew Klay plays with the Golden State Warriors. “It’s tough to pick out one great memory about the PBA but if I have to, it would have to be the love and the passion you feel from the fans. Whether at the game or in the community, you felt appreciated beyond anything I had ever experienced while playing in Europe or the US. Without a doubt, the most imposing import I had to face would be Billy Ray Bates, ‘The Black Superman’ (who was) impossible to defend.”

Thompson said he’ll never forget his Tanduay teammates. “Rob (Williams) was my closest teammate,” he went on. “He took me under his wing and taught me a lot about surviving the rigors and style of playing in the PBA. I remember in my very first game, I was suffering jet lag and only scored eight points in the first half. As you know, eight points from an import is not acceptable. I had only been there two days and had one practice. At halftime, he came up to me and said, ‘Hey, man, I’ve seen you in practice and you can play, you can get cut here by doing two things, shooting too little or shooting too much … if I were you, I would start shooting.’ He patted me on the back and said go to work. I came out with new confidence and scored 18 points in the second half and made a jump hook on the block to win our first game of the season. I will always be thankful to Rob for believing in me at that moment.”

As for Fernandez, Thompson said, “El Presidente” made it happen on the court. “Mon saved my butt many a night when I didn’t play up to par, he would have 20 to 25 points which made up the difference,” he recalled. “He was a great guy to have as a friend and teammate and the best Filipino player in the league by far. Hubalde and Capacio were also great teammates who always came to play. Coach Turo was this short serious coach who didn’t have too much to say so I could never read him. Rob was a tremendous scorer and the best three-point shooter I have ever played with. His range was incredible. When he felt it, he could drop 50 with no effort. He was also an incredibly funny guy to have on your team. He used to call me Preach, short for preacher, because I always made it a point to go to Church while I was there.”

Thompson suffered a partially torn ACL while playing with Tanduay and ended his playing career in the PBA like former NBA stars Kevin Porter and Leon Wood. “Somehow, I was able to finish the PBA season with a brace I received from another import Donnie Ray Koonce,” he said. “It was a bittersweet end for me. After I got back to the US, I felt in my heart it was time to move on with my life.”

In April 1987, Thompson began working as a production assistant with the NBA. “I guess they liked the fact that I knew the game and had a creative background in the arts because I didn’t have a background in production,” he said. “I’m still out in the field shooting, directing and producing stories, features and documentaries for all of our broadcast partners. One of the latest things I helped produce is ‘The Doctor’ which aired on NBA TV during the Finals this year. It’s so hard to name the players whom I think over the years had the most impact on the game. But it’s safe to say that the greatest player I have ever seen and worked with is Michael Jordan, he had no weakness.”



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