BOZEMAN — Last week, when Montana State University senior Joe Thompson wasn't in class or working, he was busy entertaining regional and national media with interviews.
Thompson’s fame took off Feb. 22 when he made a full-court shot during a halftime promotion at the MSU men’s basketball game against Montana at Worthington Arena. He won $11,111 from Montana’s Rib and Chop House, the promotion’s sponsor: $1 for a layup, $10 for a free throw, $100 for a 3-pointer, $1,000 for a half-court basket and $10,000 for his now viral full-court shot, all sunk within one minute.
He had at least 14 interviews in the following five days. Video of his performance has been viewed millions of times and retweeted by Sports Illustrated, ESPN’s SportsCenter, the Pat McAfee Show and Bleacher Report.
He hopes to eventually use this money and attention for a cause he believes is important.
“It was pure adrenaline,” said Thompson, a student in the School of Film and Photography in the College of Arts and Architecture. “I wish I had a Fitbit to see what my heart rate was, because I’m sure it if was attached to some emergency line they would think I was having a heart attack.”
Thompson, a Billings native and Billings Central High School graduate, is a wireless camera operator for MSU football and has seen events like this time and again. When he was asked during the MSU women’s basketball game right before the men’s if he wanted to try it, he took them up on their offer. Thompson stopped playing basketball in eighth grade but had the basics down.
He said he was nervous, afraid that if he missed the easiest shot, the layup, that it would be embarrassing and throw him off for the rest of the event. But after hitting four shots in 15 seconds, he felt more confident once approaching the final full-courter. Thompson, who was a soccer goalkeeper in high school, used a sidearm motion to chuck the ball 94 feet into the basket, sending the crowd of 6,570 into a frenzy.
“My (Billings Central) soccer coach now lives in Washington, D.C., and gave me a call out of the blue when he saw the video,” Thompson said. “He said, ‘We spent so much time practicing that shot I’m so glad you didn’t forget how to do it.’”
Thompson has been taking his moment in the spotlight in stride, but he has bigger plans to take advantage of it.
He plans to start a nonprofit called Equip Montana, something he has always wanted to create but never had an opportunity to until now. Equip Montana would help upgrade gym and recess equipment, like new tennis racquets, volleyballs and soccer balls in public schools across the state. Thompson is currently working with community leaders to find avenues of funding to support his venture.
Thompson originally wanted to be a gym teacher but was deterred by the lack of resources the position faces. He has friends who are gym teachers and has seen the conditions of their equipment. He is determined to help students and teachers alike have the equipment they deserve.
“It’s been a passion of mine, but I’ve never been able to do anything about it because I’ve been a small fish in a big tank,” Thompson said. “But now all of a sudden I’m in a small tank and have the platform and it would be foolish of me to not take advantage of it and make a difference through this event.”
A website and forms are still under construction, and Thompson hopes to have things organized by spring break with advice from Burke and Melissa Moran, the owners of Montana’s Rib and Chop House, whose business sponsored the halftime competition.
If all goes well, over the summer Thompson would like to use his film media degree to document equipment being delivered to schools to show the Montana community the difference that is being made.
“I was given such a huge boost, something no one ever gets the opportunity for, and being able to take some random event and use it for the greater good,” Thompson said. “The more people that follow this story are more people who want to help and give, and ultimately that means more equipment will be given to schools and more lives will be changed.”