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My Brother's Keeper

Tristan Thompson's Inspiration Comes from Close to Home
Photo: The Amari Thompson Fund
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Inked in Old English across the chest of the Cavaliers blue-collar power forward, Tristan Thompson, are the words: “MY BROTHER’S KEEPER.” And it’s only right that this phrase and this calling – one which dates back to the Book of Genesis – is a permanent part of him.

On the current team loaded with alpha dogs and high-profile veterans, Thompson can sometimes find himself in the role of younger brother – (even though, along with Kyrie Irving, he’s the longest-tenured Cavalier). Amicable, hard-working, easy-going and oftentimes straight-up goofy off the floor – and a determined, bad man on it – the 25-year-old is a beloved figure in the Cleveland locker room.

But among the Thompson brethren of Brampton, Ontario, there’s only role of alpha dog, high-profile veteran and big brother. And Tristan is the star of all three.

”I’m like the big daddy with all of them!”, laughed Thompson. “I have to make sure I hold them accountable. If my mom texts me and lets me know if they’re acting up, I’m going to shoot them a text, because I know what they’re weaknesses are. So they either get in line or there’s gonna be repercussions.”

And while he might dole out some tough love to 21-year-old Dishawn – a 6-4 combo guard who most recently played for Northeast Junior College in Nebraska – and 11-year-old Daniel – who recently won the 2015 U-11 Championship back in Canada – Tristan saves much of his soft side for 10-year-old Amari, who lives with epilepsy and suffers seizures on an almost daily basis.

This inspired the Wine and Gold’s all-time Iron Man to begin the Amari Thompson Fund – a program Tristan began back in 2013 that, along with Epilepsy Toronto, has helped nearly 40,000 families deal with the sometimes-debilitating neurological disorder.

Those lucky enough to be backstage when the Wine and Gold won Game 7 and the NBA Championship last June in Oakland watched Tristan fawn over Amari as the Thompson family celebrated at Oracle Arena.

"And with Toronto Epilepsy, I want to be able to spread the word and just educate people."

Tristan Thompson - Cavaliers F/C

”What makes (Amari) special, is just his fight – especially a kid his age, being able to go what he goes through,” said Thompson. “He continues to fight and always be in high spirits. So, for me, as the older brother and kind of the pioneer of the family, I think it’s just my job to be able to provide and do whatever it takes – not just for Amari, but for my other brothers just to be happy and comfortable.”

Caring for a child with epilepsy can be a challenge for any family, so one of Thompson’s stated goals working with Epilepsy Toronto is to “build a bigger family.”

“In any household, whenever you are a family that’s going through something tough – whether it’s an illness or whatever the case may be, families tend to close their doors and become more private,” began the sixth-year pro. “For me, that happened in my family. My mom really distanced herself from a lot of her friends and some family members just because what we were going through – no one really understood and no one really knew how to help.

“So with Epilepsy Toronto, they kind of knocked that barrier down and kind of got her out of the house and kind of just made her social again. And I think that’s what made the whole process better: when you meet people that have gone through the same thing, to give you advice or tell you their stories, it just helps a lot. It helps create a bigger family.”

Aside from playing the heavy with his three younger brothers, Tristan knows how vital it is to make sure his mother, Andrea – Amari’s main caregiver – is doing well.

”Even though I don’t live at home and I’m four hours away from home, I talk to my mom every day – ask how the kids are doing, ask how she’s doing, too,” Thompson explained. “Everyone knows that my mom, she’s very dedicated in taking care of her sons – especially Amari. But at the same time, you need to make sure that she’s ok.

“It’s asking a lot for one parent to do, so I always try to make sure that she’s doing well, too. Whether she’s getting a massage or just get out of the house and have a babysitter watch for a couple hours, that’s crucial.”

It’s no surprise that Thompson – who’ll extended his own franchise record for games played to 372 when he suits up to face his hometown team on Friday – is a man who understands his obligations. Not only does the former Texas Longhorn not take a night off; he doesn’t take a play off.

And one needn’t look far to see what drives him on that nightly basis.

”(Amari)’s my motivation,” asserts Thompson. “Like I said, being the pioneer of the family, with me being blessed to have this opportunity to be a professional athlete and have the means to take care of my family, I think it’s only right. And I take that as a great responsibility.”

Part of that responsibility when he returns to Canada to see his family is to show up with a big bounty of Tim Horton’s.

”I have to always go back to Tim Horton’s, it’s my favorite spot,” beamed the Brampton native. “I remember growing up as a kid – my mom, every Saturday morning she’d go the hairdresser and she’d give me two dollars to go buy donuts. I’d go and buy a bunch of little donut holes – (at Tim Horton’s they’re called ‘Timbits’) – and an apple juice and sit there and stare out the window.”

And when Amari makes the trip across the border to his big bro’s adopted home?

“It’s exciting when he’s down here in Cleveland, he just runs around the house all day, enjoying himself,” said Thompson. “He’s always in high spirits. And for me, it’s like, whatever he’s going through is not easy, but if he’s staying in high spirits, I really have no reason to complain.”

Without Tristan Thompson, there’s no telling whether the Wine and Gold would’ve been able to raise the 2016 Championship banner in Tuesday night’s opener. In two straight Finals, Thompson tortured the Warriors – averaging 10.2 points and 11.5 boards in 13 June matchups against the Warriors – grabbing double-digit rebounds in 10 of those games.

Thompson is one of those rare athletes whose exploits on the floor are matched only by the amount he gives off of it. And he’s using his celebrity status to help not just his family, but those families who need a hand in his hometown.

”The bigger you become as a player and the more success you have as a player, the spotlight definitely becomes brighter,” Tristan concluded. “But with that opportunity – especially for me – you have to do right. And with Toronto Epilepsy, I want to be able to spread the word and just educate people.

”Because people don’t really know what it is and when someone doesn’t know about something, they tend to have a negative perception about it. And I’m just trying to cut that barrier down and really just educate those to understand – it’s not contagious, it’s not something to run away from. It’s a neurological condition that causes seizures. But there’s a lot of ways to get through it and go on to have great life.”

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