Klay Thompson Revealed the Ugly Truth About AAU Basketball

As the son of an NBA star, one may think Klay Thompson had it easy getting into the basketball world. But this was not the case. Thompson certainly had some advantages other kids didn’t, but he did experience many of the same things an average kid with hoop dreams does. Thompson and Maverick Carter recently discussed these issues.

Growing up as Klay Thompson

With a father in the NBA, fans may think Thompson was pushed to be a pro athlete by his parents. After all, he had the genes of a Lakers star. But Thompson pointed out that he wasn’t as tall as he is now until his freshman year in college.

This could explain why his game relies more on his skill than size. He used this as motivation to be the best player he could be regardless of size.

It didn’t take much to convince Thompson that this was what he wanted to do. He saw his dad play with the greatest players in the world. After moving to Los Angeles from Oregon at the age of 14, his life as an athlete changed, as Thompson explained to Carter. 

“We were lucky,” Thompson said. “We moved right next door to a park with a basketball court and field, so I’d be there every day. I’d say the biggest cultural difference from Oregon and Southern California was playing three sports in Oregon … when you got to California everything was so hyper-competitive because [there were] so many great players.”

Making a basketball player out of Thompson

Thompson said that playing in these Los Angeles environments where the competition was key, even between him and teammates, showed him what a stage parent was like. Parents drove their kids to achieve, but it wasn’t always a good thing for the youth. Parents put unreal expectations on their kids to be the next great athlete.

The biggest struggle for Thompson was the way he was treated. The NBA player knows what it’s like to be just as much an asset for an organization as he is a human being. What may surprise people is that Thompson doesn’t see this as much different from the way they are treated as children. 

“If you really think about it, that starts in AAU basketball,” Thompson said. “When you’re like 14 years old, like, shoe companies are trying to get this prospect on his team, or there are the collegiate teams that are signing these multi-million dollar deals with these apparel companies … and shuttle these players that will wear their gear.”

This type of culture can wear on a child, even if they don’t fully grasp what’s going on. They start having colleges and shoe brands reaching out and trying to do what’s best for their interests, not necessarily the players. 

Is it time for a change?

Thompson’s story isn’t unique. The AAU has a reputation for using teens as assets for a product that values shoe deals and exposure more than development. The strenuous work, mental fatigue, and overall culture of this kind of league take away from the sport that its players love and cherish. 

The AAU is a foregone conclusion for American teens with hoop dreams, but it can do damage physically and mentally. For Thompson, the culture does not belong in youth sports, let alone the NBA.