Andrea Thompson was frightened, but she was trying hard not to show it. It was the middle of the night and Amari, her youngest, was twitching. His eyes were fluttering. The right side of his one-year-old body was going rigid.
Watching all this was her eldest son, Tristan. He was just 14, and she could see the concern in his wide eyes. “In that situation, as a mother, you can’t show that you’re worried or nervous,” she says now. “You have to keep calm.”
It didn’t work very well. Her oldest son was terrified. His baby brother wasn’t well and his mother didn’t know what was wrong. Amari was eventually diagnosed with epilepsy, and grand mal seizures have been a near daily part of their lives ever since. But that doesn’t make the first one any less vivid a memory. “I was so scared,” Thompson, now 23, says. “I had never seen anything like that before. There was nothing I could do. I asked my mom: ‘Do you want me to do something?’ And she just said, ‘No, stay back.’”
Thompson did as he was told, but the moment crystallized something for him. “Ever since then I’ve been motivated so that one day I could put myself in position to help him out.”
Already a budding hoops prospect, the Brampton, Ont., native put himself on a fast track. The next year he left home to play for St. Benedict’s, a high-school powerhouse in New Jersey. From there it was a season and a half at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas and a year at the University of Texas that resulted in him earning the No. 4 spot in the 2011 NBA draft, the highest a Canadian had ever been taken to that point.
This NBA season should be a coming-out party for the six-foot-nine Cleveland Cavaliers power forward. The sad-sack Cavs are now the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, and when LeBron James penned his letter announcing a return to his hometown team, Thompson’s was one of the names he referenced specifically. A young veteran entering his fourth season, Thompson knows his role in a lineup suddenly populated by all-stars: defend and rebound, whatever the team needs. “I’m going to be a Dennis Rodman type,” he says.
It takes a mature player to sacrifice scoring opportunities for things that don’t show up on the stat sheet, but Andrea Thompson’s eldest was always more mature than other kids. He was packing lunches and getting his younger brothers out the door when he was in Grade 5 and she had to leave the house early to drive a school bus. The first day she hid in the basement to make sure it all went smoothly. She never had to worry; Tristan had it under control.
But Amari’s condition shifted a bigger burden to Thompson. Amari needed constant supervision. If Thompson needed to get to basketball, he had to figure it out himself. He did, but he always remembered his promise to himself on behalf of his family.
Strong, character NBA big men who are willing to hustle will get paid. Thompson is a restricted free agent after the coming season and could earn himself a hefty deal. And he knows exactly where he’s going to put his money. One of the first things he did when he signed his rookie deal was to “retire” Andrea so that she could be a full-time caregiver to Amari. He’s footed the bill for his brother’s care at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, and this summer he started the Amari Thompson Fund with Epilepsy Toronto to help other families affected by the neurological disorder.
He hasn’t forgotten his mom either. On her birthday he sent her a black Cadillac Escalade with a white bow on the hood and a cake on top. And this past summer he gave her an even greater gift—an evening out. She’d never left Amari alone with his big brother and hesitated before leaving the house, but Thompson assured her there was no need for concern. “I got this, Mom,” he said. “There’s nothing to worry about.”