Photo from Andy Thompson/ PBA

THE LEGEND52 

Meet Andy Thompson, The Last Dance executive producer who played as a PBA import in 1986

by Niel Victor Masoy, May 22, 2020 5:31pm

Filipinos will always find a way to be associated with something great like the blockbuster sports documentary, The Last Dance.

When the docu series showed the 1998 championship parade by the Chicago Bulls, Pinoy hoops fans point to that guy who carried a billboard with a text: 'From the Philippines! Mabuhay!'

Before you get triggered, let me say that isn't bad at all.

Moving on, well, here's someone the Filipino basketball fans can really associate with. Meet Andy Thompson, the executive producer of The Last Dance.

Before he took a career in production, the 6-foot-5 Thompson, brother of Lakers legend Mychal and uncle of Golden State's Klay, played as an import for the Tanduay Rhum Masters in the PBA.

And his own version of 'last dance' was his stint with the Rhum Masters in the 1986 Open Conference.

On Thursday, Thompson recalled his time in the PBA in the NBA Philippines Republika Huddle hosted by sportscasters Boom Gonzales and Nikko Ramos.

What stood out for the then 22-year-old big man was the immense passion of Filipinos when it comes to basketball.

"When you get here, you think you've been exposed with the best fans in the world because you grew up in the United States and you grew up, you played in the University of Minnesota, it's always packed, 18,000 people every night at the University arenas," said Thompson.

"But there's nothing that could have prepared me for the passionate fans and the fandom of the Filipino fans. It was unbelievable. I say it was the most fun I've ever had playing basketball in my life."

At the same time, however, it was the scariest part of his basketball career. Thompson shared he came over here to replace Tanduay's import Benny Anders.

The Rhum Masters gave Anders the pink slip despite averaging 30 points and 17 rebounds. They're not winning, after all.

Thomson revealed he will be judged by every game he played as his contract wasn't guaranteed.

"It was also the scariest time playing basketball of my life. Every game at that point in time in 1986 my countact wasn't guaranteed," recalled Thompson.

"They just cut Benny Anders - a former teammate of Manila Beer import Michael Young at the University of Houston - and I told them (Tanduay management), what do you expect me to do? He's averaging 30 (points) and 17 (rebounds), and you cut the guy," said Thompson.

"And I never averaged 30 (points) in a major league like that."

But Thompson soldiered on, jelling well with his fellow import Rob Williams and his other local teammates like four-time MVP Ramon Fernandez, Freddie Hubalde, and Padim Israel.

Of the Rhum Masters, Thompson said it was Hubalde who became his rock.

"Freddie Hubalde was another one of my really close friends," he said of the former MVP and Crispa stalwart. "He was a Christian player at that time, he gave me a lot of spiritual support and I needed that from him."

Thompson played well, putting up 20 points and 13 rebounds in the conference to lead Tanduay to the Semifinals. Unfortunately, the Rhum Masters couldn't get past the Semis, finishing as the fourth best team after losing to Great Taste in the Battle for Third.

What's more impressive with Thompson's campaign was that he was playing through a partially torn ACL that time. In the Semis, he had to wear braces so he could play.

The injury proved to be painful enough to end not only his PBA stint but his entire basketball career.

After which, Thompson returned to the States and began his production career. He eventually became the vice president of NBA Entertainment. 

In 2013, he managed to come back here in the Philippines as he watched the NBA preseason game between the Houston Rockets and the Indiana Pacers.

"When I found out that there will be a game played there, I signed up immediately," he said of the event held at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Then, Thompson became the mastermind of The Last Dance, which tacked the six-title run by the greatness of Michael Jordan and the Bulls, with emphasis on their last championship journey in the 1997-1998 season.

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