Life-changing event motivates exceptional generosity of Rider alumnus and pro basketball player
No NBA player has played more games as a Sacramento King than Jason Thompson '08. During his first season, in 2008–09, he played in all 82 games. During his second season, he was working on a similar streak when he received devastating news from home.
Tiffany Carroll, Thompson's cousin, lost her life unexpectedly to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease characterized by thickening of the heart muscle, a reduction of blood flow and, sometimes, life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms. To her family, her death came as a shock. She seemed to be a healthy 25-year-old athlete.
“We had a tight relationship. She was the sister I never had,” says Thompson.
About a year after Carroll’s death, Thompson established The Jason Thompson Foundation, with the mission to promote heart health among children and young adults.
“I always knew I wanted to give back,” Thompson says. “When I decided to start a foundation, I couldn’t pinpoint the focus. There are so many issues in the world. But when this happened with Tiffany, it was a lightbulb moment.”
On Aug. 1, the foundation will host Summer Soiree, a fundraising event in Philadelphia benefiting cardiovascular health. The formal event will feature guest hosts Mike Jerrick and Alex Holley of Good Day Philadelphia, a deejay, open bar, surprise guest appearances and more. Tickets and sponsorship packages are now available.
"We hope this will become an annual event to raise money for research and awareness of the importance of cardiovascular health," Thompson says.
The event will be held at Union Trust in Philadelphia. Thompson grew up about 20 miles away in Mount Laurel, N.J. As a teenager, he led the Lenape High School men’s basketball team to its first state title and undefeated regular season. After high school, he enrolled at Rider University, where he became the only player in the history of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to total more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. Following graduation, he was selected as the 12th player overall in the 2008 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings.
Thompson played in 541 NBA games as a Sacramento King. Over seven seasons with the team, he compiled more than 5,000 points and 3,750 rebounds. He later spent time as a Golden State Warrior and Toronto Raptor. He now plays professional basketball in China with the Sichuan Blue Whales. Thompson's brother, Ryan '10, also plays overseas. Both Ryan and Jason have been inducted into the Rider Athletics Hall of Fame.
"It's almost impossible not to be impressed by Jason on the basketball court," says Director of Athletics Don Harnum. "But it has been even more gratifying to see the ways he has grown as a person off the court since he first came to Rider. Over time he has consistently made decisions that make a difference in people's lives."
In addition to his foundation’s charitable work, Thompson has remained deeply and generously engaged with his alma mater. In 2015, he made the largest gift ever by a Rider basketball alumnus to the University, which helped fund the construction of a new 8,400 square foot basketball practice facility. The court inside the facility bears Thompson’s name, not far from where his retired jersey hangs inside Alumni Gym.
Soon after Thompson joined the NBA, he started offering the Jason Thompson Elite Basketball Camp in Sacramento, Calif., where he provides free scholarships for some of the 200-plus girls and boys in grades 2 through 12 who participate. For more than a decade, thousands of children have benefitted from the camp, which has since expanded to New Jersey. The next one is scheduled for Aug. 12-16 at the Riverwinds Community Center in West Deptford, N.J.
The importance of service and giving back was ingrained in Thompson as a child, he says. He can recall how involved his grandmother was with her church, volunteering at soup kitchens and turkey drives, handing out food and goods to people in need. The experience made an impression on him.
“As a kid, sometimes you think you have it bad, but there’s someone who always has it a little worse than you,” Thompson says. “In my mind, I always thought that if I was ever in a position to do it, I wanted to give back. I’ve been glad over the years I’ve been able to change people’s lives. It makes me feel good.”