Mychal Thompson Slept Through His Trade That Helped Vault the LA Lakers Past the Boston Celtics in 1987

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Mychal Thompson of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles on the bench.

In the 1985-86 NBA season, the Boston Celtics acquired Bill Walton to beef up their bench. The Celtics, already with four future Hall of Famers in their starting lineup, added a fifth to their team with the addition of Walton. Walton and the Celtics won 67 games during the regular season and cruised to a championship, defeating the Houston Rockets in the 1986 NBA Finals.

The following season, the Los Angeles Lakers followed a similar path as the Celtics. They added some size and punch to their bench by acquiring Mychal Thompson from the San Antonio Spurs. Thompson, however, failed to get the memo, thanks to his pregame nap.

Mychal Thompson played a key role in helping to get the Lakers back into the NBA Finals

After the Boston Celtics and LA Lakers met in the NBA Finals in 1984 and 1985, many believed the teams would meet again for the third straight season. The Celtics did their part by sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Lakers, however, were upset by the Houston Rockets in five games.

Taking a page from the Celtics, the Lakers brought in a talented big man to come off the bench in 1987 by sending Petur Gudmundsson, Frank Brickowski, a first-round pick (Greg Anderson), a second-round pick in 1990 (Sean Higgins), and cash to the Spurs. It was a whole lot of nothing for a veteran center, who came in to spell Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with some valuable minutes.

“If San Antonio needed money, we would’ve sent them money,” said Celtics star Larry Bird, according to Sports Illustrated. “But to go and help the Lakers like that is just terrible.”

Thompson, the father of Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson, averaged 10.1 points off the bench in 33 minutes for the Lakers. While LA thrived with their new big man, the Celtics lost theirs. Walton, who was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 1986 after playing in 80 regular-season games, was limited to 10 games during the 1986-87 season and averaged 2.8 points.

Walton underwent surgery on his foot in December 1986. The Lakers capitalized by pulling off the Thompson trade. In Game 6 of the 1987 NBA Finals, Thompson played 37 minutes and had 15 points and nine rebounds in a series-clinching 106-93 Lakers win.

Thompson slept through the trade that sent him to the Lakers

Thompson played the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers after Portland took him with the No. 1 overall pick in 1978. In those seven seasons, he averaged 16.7 points and 8.9 rebounds. Just ahead of the 1986-87 season, the Blazers traded Thompson to the Spurs, where he played just 49 games.

On Feb. 13, 1987, the Spurs traded Thompson to the Lakers. It may not seem like the most impactful trade, but Thompson was the perfect fit in LA. If the Lakers met the Celtics in the championship round, it would cause plenty of problems for the Celtics. Boston’s top big man off the bench without Walton was Greg Kite.

According to Jackie MacMullan’s book When the Game Was Ours, the Spurs attempted to notify Thompson of the deal. The Spurs had a game that night, and Thompson had taken his phone off the hook so he wouldn’t be interrupted during his pregame nap. Text messages and cell phones weren’t quite a thing yet.

Thompson woke up and drove to the arena. There were only two people in the training room when he went to get on the table to get his ankles taped. Trainer John Anderson gave Thompson a strange look.

“Hey, I can’t tape you,” he said. “You’ve been traded.”

“C’mon, no joking around today,” Thompson said. “I want to do some extra shooting.”

“Are you listening to me?” Anderson asked. “You are no longer a Spur. You’ve been traded to the Lakers.”

It took a moment or two for Thompson to process the situation before realizing what had just happened.

“I felt like I won the lottery,” Thompson said.