BOZEMAN — Joe Thompson didn’t even clearly see the shot that launched him into viral internet fame fall through the net.
The Montana State senior was already focused on receiving the next ball for him to shoot 94 feet across Worthington Arena, so he tilted his body and stopped watching the ball soaring through the air. When the ball banked off the backboard and in, Thompson had two thoughts as the 6,570 in attendance erupted with their loudest roars of the night.
Either he made the shot or the entire crowd conspired to prank him. Then he considered the unlikeness of the latter, and Thompson ran around the court with his arms outspread celebrating the accomplishment.
“I was flabbergasted,” Thompson said.
“It’s been insane,” he added. “My phone won’t stop blowing up.”
At halftime of Saturday’s Montana-vs.-Montana State men’s basketball game, Thompson made the full-court shot to net him $11,111 from Montana’s Rib and Chop House, the promotion’s sponsor. He collected $1 for making a layup, $10 for a free throw, $100 for a 3-pointer and $1,000 for a half-court shot before converting the $10,000 shot that sparked his instant phenomenon.
Thompson, a 2014 Billings Central High School graduate, studies film and television production. As of Monday afternoon, he was interviewed seven times and the video of his shot had been viewed more than 1.2 million times. Sports Illustrated, ESPN’s SportsCenter and Bleacher Report all tweeted out the video.
“The craziest part was when the video jumped from 20,000 to a million in less than 10 hours,” Thompson said. “To be able to watch the growth of it from the beginning has been insane.”
As soon as the shot went in, Thompson waved his arms and smiled. He then approached a camera, gestured “2-4” with his fingers and pointed to the sky, a tribute to the late former NBA star Kobe Bryant, who wore No. 24 and died Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash.
Thompson stopped playing organized basketball after eighth grade, but growing up he and his friends frequently yelled “Kobe,” when they’d make a shot.
“We would always yell ‘Kobe’ because he was a legend,” Thompson said. “It’s a generational thing. We would always do that. Hitting the full court, for me, it was like the most ultimate ‘Kobe’ I’ve ever done.”
Montana State head football coach Jeff Choate was about to be interviewed on SWX Montana’s broadcast when Thompson made the shot. Choate ripped off his headset, ran behind the scorer’s table, high-fived the winner and threw a fist pump.
“When I saw him running to track me down,” Thompson said, “I was like ‘Oh, hell yeah. This is fun for everyone.’”
It took Thompson 40 minutes to return to his seat, he said, because people constantly approached him.
“Griz fans, Cat fans, the medics, the police officers, security. Everyone who was in that building was congratulating me,” Thompson said. “They were excited for me. They were excited in general. It really gave the (Brick Breeden) Fieldhouse a different atmosphere.”
Congrats to @montanastate student @UrBrotherJoe who collected his winnings from @MTRibandChop this AM from his epic halftime shots this weekend! In case you missed it, Joe hit:— Montana State Bobcats (@MSUBobcats) February 24, 2020
- A layup
- A free throw
- A 3-pointer
- A half-court shot
- AND A FULL COURT SHOT to win $11,111! pic.twitter.com/HHIrPseS9X
Thompson has worked on the arena’s in-house video production team at games the past three years. He’s seen countless people attempt the same shots he made. He requested to have Saturday off because it had been years since he could simply enjoy a game, and the rivalry was his choice to take in as a fan.
Thompson practiced by taking just one shot two weeks prior, he said. With a packed arena watching, Thompson felt nervous. He feared embarrassment if he missed the layup in front of that many people.
Instead, Thompson made his first four shots in about 15 seconds, which helped him find a rhythm and gave him $1,111, a total he would have been content with. It also allowed him 45 seconds for the farthest one.
A former soccer goalie in high school, Thompson shot sidearm. He figured a typical basketball shot would collide into the video board above the court. His first attempt barely reached the opposite 3-point line, but he honed his aim.
“(Soccer) is where I think I got that throw down,” Thompson said. “... I did the exact same type of throw I would with a soccer ball.”
When Thompson texted his family saying that he won, his mom replied, “You just won $1,100?” He clarified, “No, 11k, you read it right,” he recalled. His parents then told friends about what happened, but many already knew.
Part of why he’s gone viral, Thompson said, is because of the quality of the video of the highlight. He normally has a hand in games’ video production, and he did again Saturday except this time in front of the camera.
On Monday, Thompson appeared on the Pat McAfee Show, a radio show on Westwood One hosted by the former NFL punter. He received his check for $11,111 from Rib and Chop House. Friends from across the country reached out.
Thompson said some of the money will be used for payments on his car, which broke down in December. He’s looking forward to eliminating some of his debt and is basking in the glory of his moment.
“It’s been fun,” Thompson said. “The Montana community has definitely been supporting me and this viral video. It’s just made it so much better.”