Thompson, 83, a native of West Philadelphia, got his start in officiating after coming out of the military in 1953. Along with working for the U.S. Postal Service and for a small contracting business, Thompson was working basketball games.
With the help of his friend Andy Hershock, Thompson eventually was hired to officiate games in the Eastern Professional Basketball League, composed of players who had played in the NBA and those who didn't quite make it. He officiated his first game in 1963, the day after President Kennedy was assassinated.
"We had a very good league," Thompson said. "As a matter of fact, they used to sell out all the time because at that time, there were only eight or 10 NBA teams."
Thompson spent two seasons officiating in the American Basketball Association. During that time, he mentored some future NBA officials, including Dick Bavetta, Joe Crawford and Bill Oakes. Once the ABA merged with the NBA, Thompson was left without an officiating job. In his mind, the reason for dismissal was very clear.
Thompson sued the NBA for discrimination and, after winning a ruling from the Equal Opportunity Commission, he was invited to serve as an NBA observer-scout in 1980.
His role was not only to recruit new officials, but also to grade and critique the incumbent referees. Thompson was guaranteed 50 games a year for the next 17 years.
"I felt as though I had vindicated myself and I had put up a fight. I didn't just roll over and play dead for them," Thompson said. "I was not very good at backing down. I would rather have my behind beat than to live inwardly, knowing that I had copped out. I just couldn't do that."
Thompson went on to spend 17 memorable seasons in the NBA. He left the league in 1997, as it phased out the old observer-scouts in order to bring in some of the ex-officials to take over.
Thompson looks back fondly on his accomplishments. He noted he was granted a lot of "firsts," as he called it, including the opportunity to officiate the first game in which NBA and ABA players met on the same hardwood. On June 20, 1971, the two leagues met in a benefit all-star game in Indianapolis. Thompson, an ABA ref at the time, was the lead official alongside the NBA's John Parker.
"That was the highlight of my career," Thompson said. "I break out in chills when I think about it."
Since his departure from the NBA, Thompson has enjoyed spending time with his family: his wife, Gloria, his two daughters, Wendi and Dianne, and his grandson, Terrell. He and his wife reside in West Philadelphia, where they have lived for 46 years.
But you can't help but get the feeling he missed officiating, no matter how many challenges he was forced to endure.
"How can you explain who you're in love with? You can't explain it," Thompson said. "It's just something about that guy or something about that girl and you don't know what it is. But when that person's away from you, you just want to see them so badly.
"Life is like that. And I just loved officiating."