Where Are They Now? LaSalle Thompson

LaSalle Thompson once joked that his vertical leap was the width of a sheet of paper, but he shows his real hops here against Patrick Ewing.
(Pacers photo)

It comes as little surprise to anyone who knows LaSalle Thompson that, as general manager of the San Diego WildFire of ABA 2000, he once fired himself as head coach.

He thought it would help the team, and that was all that mattered.

One of the most popular teammates wherever he went during his 15-season NBA career, Thompson long ago developed a reputation for good-natured selflessness. And so, with the WildFire limping along with an 8-23 record during the fledgling league's inaugural season, Thompson stepped aside and elevated Dane Suttle into the head coaching position. It didn't save the foundering franchise from going under shortly thereafter.

"They never paid on time, and they really didn't want to pay at all," said Thompson. "From about the halfway point of the season on, the players didn't get paid. When I resigned as coach, I stayed on as GM because I thought I could help the players get paid. I was able to get 'em one more check but to this day, (the former owners) still owe the players about half their money."

A bruising 6-10, 260-pound center from Texas nicknamed "Tank" both for his physique and playing style, Thompson joined the Pacers along with Randy Wittman in a 1989 trade that sent Wayman Tisdale to Sacramento. He spent 6½ seasons in Indiana before leaving for Philadelphia in 1995. He returned (as part of the Mark Jackson trade) in 1997, which was the final season of his career.

"I really enjoyed Indiana," he said. "It's really a special and unique place to play basketball. I'd have to say my number one memory was how close the guys on the team were, how tight we were, how well we all got a long. Number two would be how good the organization was, and number three would be how knowledgeable the fans in Indiana are."

Thompson, who averaged 5.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in 417 games with the Pacers (7.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in his NBA career), lives in his adopted hometown of Sacramento but returns to Indianapolis periodically to visit his 6-year-old son. "I'm trying to be a daddy," he said.

Most of his time is spent in California, where he and partner Harold Pressley (a former Kings teammate) own Prime Time Motors, an automobile sales firm that deals primarily on the wholesale market. He also is dabbling in real estate development, but isn't completely disconnected from the game. During the Kings' playoff run, he was a guest analyst on the team's television broadcasts.

"It's funny," he said. "I never really missed playing. I miss the cameraderie of being with the guys on the team."

As a center who averaged at least 10.3 points and eight rebounds in five of his first seven seasons, Thompson would be a big-money player in today's center-thin NBA. But he doesn't dwell on what might've been, because he has no regrets.

"I always looked at it like this: What if I'd been born 10 years earlier?" Thompson said. "Then, I might've only made $100,000. I did OK, so I don't worry about it."