With more than 200 family members and friends watching him play Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, Jason Thompson came off the bench to score 14 points and grab seven rebounds as the Sacramento Kings blew open a close game in the second half to top the 76ers, 115-98.
For the 6-foot-11, 250-pound forward, coming home is always special.
“It’s always good to come home and play around the people that supported me since Day One,” said Thomson, a 2004 Lenape High School graduate. “There’s a lot of family members, high school friends, college, so it’s always good to hear cheers when I score or come into the game here.”
It’s a rare treat though for both Thompson and his local fans. With Sacramento in the Western Conference, the Kings only come to Philadelphia once a season.
Although security guards were a bit miffed about the large throng of purple-clad Thompson supporters hanging around in the lower bowl seating area after the game, each of whom were hoping to catch up with their favorite hometown hero, Thompson was really appreciative of the tremendous show of support.
He spent more than 45 minutes hugging family and friends from both his high school and college days, shaking hands, signing autographs and reliving some memories.
“It just shows the respect they have for me, ever since high school and playing out here,” said Thompson, who played collegiately at Rider University in central New Jersey where he was the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Player of the Year in 2008. “They support the things that I do and my foundation. I had a box tonight for a certain amount of people and we used it to raise money for my foundation with the American Heart Association. I’m happy for the people that come out and do a lot of things for the basketball support of it and also the other things that I’m doing as well.”
The 12th overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft, he started the Jason Thompson Foundation
in 2010 after his family suffered a tragic loss.
His cousin, Tiffany Carroll, who played high school basketball at Washington Township (Class of 2002) and later at Salem Community College, was a seemingly healthy and active young adult. At just 25-years-old she lost her life to a disease known as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM is most commonly known as a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes. This harsh reality inspired Thompson to form the Jason Thompson Foundation so that he could honor his cousin’s memory by raising awareness about heart disease in athletes, children and young adults.
The Jason Thompson Foundation has made strides to develop long-lasting partnerships with organizations that specialize in cardiac research in an effort to eliminate the threat of heart disease.
“She wasn’t sick or anything,” Thompson said, shaking his head as he reminisced about his cousin. “It just happened and so I started the foundation and I’ve been raising money in support of the American Heart Association. I run basketball camps, clinics and other things to help out with the cause.”
Thompson never forgets the magical 2004 season in which he helped power his Bill Lange-coached Lenape squad to the Group 4 state title, the first-ever boys’ basketball state championship in school history.
“The thing I still think about whenever I come back, of course, is us going undefeated and winning the state championship and having the support that we did,” Thompson said while looking up and smiling. “Everybody jumped on the bandwagon eventually, more and more every time we won another game and it was great.”
In the state final, Thompson had 16 points and 12 rebounds in his team’s 63-46 win over Plainfield. The Indians suffered their only defeat of the season the following week in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, losing in the quarterfinals. Ironically, his former coach’s son, Billy Lange, is a 76ers assistant coach and got to watch Thompson closely Wednesday night as Sacramento dismantled the Sixers.
Of course Thompson’s had to adjust to losing with the Kings and Sacramento’s first-year head coach, Mike Malone, says he can sympathize with some of the frustrations of his franchise’s longest tenured player.
“I am his fifth coach in his six years with this team and he’s experienced a lot of losing in that time, but he keeps working hard and carries himself the right way,” Malone said of the 27-year-old NBA veteran.
“He really is a great kid, a true pro,” longtime Sacramento Kings broadcaster Gary Gerould said.
And that’s why so many people from his South Jersey roots were there Wednesday to root him on.
For more information on the Jason Thompson Foundation and how you can help, visit thejasonthompsonfoundation.com. Follow Jason on Twitter, @jtthekid or find The Jason Thompson Foundation on Facebook.