By Tom Ballato
Basketball has taken Jason Thompson to different cities and countries all over the world. It has helped him grow through adversity and given him a platform to help loved ones and others in his community.
Jason was a guard for most of his childhood. He entered high school at 5-foot-11 and gradually grew. By his senior year, he was a 6-foot-8 center.
At 6-foot-8, 190 pounds, Thompson had put muscle on and developed his body. He received interest from Rider, Siena, and Central Connecticut. After he led Lenape (high school in Medford, New Jersey) to its first State Title and an undefeated regular season, more schools became interested in him.
Thompson chose to play college basketball at Rider University. Rider University is in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, so it wasn’t too far from his home. “I felt like I wanted to take that big fish in a small pond approach. I knew I had more developing and growing to do,” said Thompson on his decision to attend to Rider.
Each year at Rider, Thompson got better on the court. Playing close to home and having the support of his family played a significant factor in his development. His numbers took a big jump from his freshman year to his sophomore year, but Rider went through a coaching change, and the team didn’t play well.
Losing was hard for Thompson early on at Rider, but his younger brother, Ryan, signed with them when he was a junior, which motivated him. They played two years together at Rider, and during Jason’s senior year, they made it to the conference tournament finals. Ryan Thompson suffered a concussion in the semifinals and missed the title game. “We had two great years together. Unfortunately, he got a concussion, and we fell just short in the title game,” said Thompson about playing with his brother at Rider.
Thompson graduated Rider University with a degree in communications. He finished his career on the court with 2,040 points and 1,171 rebounds, which are a program record. Rider University would go on to eventually name their new basketball court after him.
The Sacramento Kings selected Thompson with the 12th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. Thompson would spend seven seasons with the Kings, mainly as a starter. In 541 games with the team, he averaged 9.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
While the losses mounted in Sacramento, Thompson still brought that intensity on a nightly basis. “I had my ups and downs and had seven coaches in seven seasons, over 120 different teammates, and the list goes on. I was consistent during my time there, but nowadays, teams stick it out and develop players. Who knows if things would have been different. The team was also thinking of moving three or four times when I was there,” claimed Thompson.
The Philadelphia 76ers traded Thompson in the summer of 2015. Appreciative of his tenure in Sacramento, Thompson wonders if things would be different if he played there today, but timing is everything, according to Thompson.
The Philadelphia 76ers would trade Thompson to the Golden State Warriors less than a month after acquiring him. He began the 2015-2016 season with the Warriors appearing in 28 games before they waived him and he signed with the Toronto Raptors. Thompson played in 19 games for Toronto and appeared in 10 playoffs games for the team in a veteran role off the bench.
When asked about his role during that season, Thompson responded, “It was tough going to a championship team in Golden State. They had lost one player from the year before in David Lee, but even as a great player as he was, he was in a limited role that year. Mentally it was something I wasn’t used to, and taking a backseat and not playing the minutes you are used to it was tough, but it made me stronger and mentally stronger player as well.”
In 2016, Thompson signed a one year deal with Shandong of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). It was his first time playing overseas, and once again, he struggled to find consistency. Due to injuries, Shandong brought in many imports to play alongside Thompson (the CBA only allows a certain amount of imports per team). Shandong went on to make the playoffs even after all the injuries throughout the season.
Thompson wanted to experience playing basketball in Europe something his brother talked to him about. He headed to Turkey to play for powerhouse Fenerbahce Beko Instanbul of the EuroLeague.
Thompson described his experience with the team and claimed, “When you go to a team like that, it is very similar to the NBA with a great coach, great players, and many former NBA players in the league. It was an interesting experience. I had success with the team, but you win twelve games in a row and lose one game, things can be very different, even if you are number one in all of Europe. It was the longest season I’ve been apart of since Toronto two years before. We played Luka (Luka Dončić) and Real Madrid in the championship and lost by a few, but then I’ve never been apart of a team where you lose the championship and still have to play in the countries playoffs as well. That was a lot to learn as well with different emotions.”
During his stint for the club, they won the Turkish President’s Cup and reached the EuroLeague finals. In 36 games with Fenerbahce, Thompson averaged 5.0 points and 3.9 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game. Fenerbahce played in the Turkish League and EuroLeague, playing in two leagues, took some getting used to for Thompson.
Following a year in the EuroLeague, Thompson returned to China in 2018 to play for the Sichuan Blue Whales. He was a dominant force for the Blue Whales, appearing in 45 games and averaged 22.6 points and 14.9 rebounds per game. In his final game for the team, Thompson scored 35 points, grabbed 27 rebounds, and had 9 assists.
Thompson’s trainer and Guangdong Southern Tigers’ head strength coach, Matt Houston, talked about Thompson and said, “He’s been a pro for a long time for a reason. First and foremost, Jason has a great work ethic and continues to want to get better year by year, but his knowledge and his relentless effort is the reason he’s able to play at such a high level.”
Thompson headed back to China and started the 2019-2020 season with the Beikong Fly Dragons. In 24 games, he averaged a double-double with 13.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. With the season suspended in China due to the coronavirus, Thompson left the team and signed in Spain with Casademont Zaragoza. He was a key piece for Zaragoza, who sat in third place in Spain’s Liga ACB, but their season was suspended indefinitely due to the coronavirus. The ACB resumed in June, but Thompson did not rejoin the team in Spain.
When Thompson isn’t on the court is giving back in multiple ways. “I also knew I wanted to give back, but when my cousin, Tiffany Carroll, passed away at 25 from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, I knew I had to give back. I work with the American Heart Association and run events that promote heart health with children and young adults,” said Thompson about his foundation.
He also runs L.I.V.E Like JT, which is a leadership program. It encourages young people to use their voices to advocate for positive changes in the world. They run turkey drives around Thanksgiving, team up with Walmart around Christmas time to give to the less fortunate, and in the spring, they team up with the police department in Mount Laurel, NJ, to give out bikes in the community to promote exercise and good health.
Thompson will be 34 this July and is currently a free agent. It will be interesting to see where he will play next season, but wherever Thompson plays, it will be at a high level.