Caught in the Web Indiana Pacers blog - LaSalle Thompson taking hard-hat approach to career-building
Thompson taking hard-hat approach to career-building
Few former Pacers ever have been more deserving of a hard hat.
A bruising 6-10, 255-pound center nicknamed "Tank" as much for his imposing physique as his playing style, Thompson played with the Pacers from 1989-95 as well as a brief stint in the 1996-97 season. Now 50, he is trying to build two careers -- one in coaching as well as one in construction.
Thompson has done real estate development in Sacramento and Indianapolis but put that aside in 2008 when he had the chance to join Larry Brown's coaching staff in Charlotte. Though a veteran of 15 NBA seasons with four teams, Thompson approached that job with the mindset of a rookie.
"I actually learned a lot because there was a lot of stuff I thought I knew that I didn't know," he said. "Since I played, even though it's still a pretty physical game, the physicality has changed. The rules have changed and they've tried to make it a lot more streamlined and faster.
"I learned how to read and draw plays, how to scout players, I learned a lot more about how to teach guards because I mostly knew a lot of big man stuff. I learned better defensive philosophies. You learn a lot working under Larry.
"Technically, I was the big-man coach but Larry doesn't believe in specialized coaching positions so he just told me when he hired me, 'Look, you're going to learn everything just like everybody else. You're a coach.' We had five assistants and including Larry all the coaches had at least 20 years of experience so for me it was almost like going to school because I was learning something every day from all those guys."
Thompson spent parts of three seasons under Brown with the Pacers, including the team's first two trips ever to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1994 and '95. He moved to Philadelphia, then Denver, before returning to Indiana in the trade that also brought back Mark Jackson in 1997. That turned out to be the final season of his career.
When Thompson joined the Pacers in a 1989 trade with Sacramento, he moved right into the starting lineup, averaging 12.5 points and 9.9 rebounds in 39 games after the trade. Starting 137 games the following two seasons, he averaged 7.2 points and 7.3 rebounds. But with the development of center Rik Smits and the draft of power forward Dale Davis, Thompson moved to the bench but continued to play a leadership role, particularly with the team's emerging young tandem of big men.
Through that experience, Thompson developed a desire to become a coach when his playing days ended.
"I had an itch to want to do it because I've always liked helping young guys get better," he said. "That's still my favorite part. But I got to watch a master at his craft (under Brown) and a lot of times I just sat there and listened. I kept my mouth shut and learned. And I learned a good amount from him."
With Brown's departure from the Bobcats, Thompson also is looking for another NBA opportunity. In the meantime, he will devote his time to learning the construction game. He has taken apprentice classes with a design on owning or managing a construction company.
"I'm down that road now, working on some projects," he said. "I developed a good network of investors that can back some of the projects I'm doing. I like coaching but I can't coach right now. I like doing this, too, so at least I'm doing something I like. "
Thompson, who lives in Sacramento, helped out the University of Pacific's big men over the summer and also assists a couple of friends who are high school coaches in northern California.
Should another coaching opportunity arise, Thompson plans to remain active in his construction projects.
"If I end up getting a coaching job I'll do both," he said. "I won't walk away from the real estate this time. I'm kind of enjoying this."