Cory Thompson could have hanged up his sneakers a long time ago.
His childhood friend, Rodney Bodden, was only 16 when he died of heart failure in 1996 while playing in a basketball competition in the Bahamas. Thompson could have let grief overshadow his passion on the court but instead used it to rise above the rim.
“The bond me and Rodney had was unexplainable, it was deeper than a brother’s bond,” Thompson said. “We used to see each other more than we would see our family. Not one day would pass without us going to basketball training or the gym, even if it was just to play outdoors. Friends started to call us twins because you would never see one without the other, even if it was clubbing.
“Even though he was a few years younger than me, he used to look up to me and I used to do the same. We became mentors to each other and this helped us to become unbeatable in outdoor basketball playing together. The determination he had to be a successful basketball player was amazing and I know for sure one day he was going to make it.”
Bodden’s story gets more sombre as the George Town native was a recipient of a basketball scholarship to attend a high school in the Bahamas. Had he lived, he would have carried on his journey by attending Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Thompson, 33, wanted to emulate his best friend, who had even played alongside him at international competitions representing Cayman.
“The day I heard Rodney was offered a scholarship from Eckerd, before he was even old enough, with spending a year in the Bahamas was a very happy day for me. I knew right there and then the hard work paid off and we made it. This was history and the first time a basketball player from Cayman received a fully paid scholarship for basketball.
“Even though Rodney left and went to the Bahamas, he never left me out. He was trying to get me to come over and play for the high school as well, but at that time I was too old and just finishing my last year of high school in Cayman. So the plan was to join forces at Eckerd, where I had already made a good name by winning the all-star player award for a camp we attended a summer before.”
Thompson’s ability was somewhat surprising since he only started playing basketball as a teenager. Most of his peers were dribbling a ball before they were 10-years-old.
“I started playing basketball at the age of 15. This was very late compared to most of the players I was playing with that had a good six years or even longer on me. Before that, I never knew much about basketball or that it was even played in Cayman. I can thank Bernie Bush for that, he was the first person to make me touch a basketball.
“I went to a private school in Cayman where sports was not that big because they tried to concentrate more on education. But the government sent an external Physical Education teacher to the school once per week and Bernie was assigned to us. The first day he saw me pick up a basketball and start to play, he came to me and asked how long I had been playing because I was good. I told him never and that it was my first time on a basketball court. He convinced me to take it up and try to play in the league, so I did.
“Algon Nixon was my first coach in the league and, after being with him for less than two months, I started to shine. He gave me the opportunity to play in a game that was very tight versus the Wendy’s Tarheels Juniors, with no court or game experience and I led the team to beat Wendy’s by hitting the last three baskets of the game. That is where it all started; by the end of the season I was selected for the national team and was one of the members of the first Cayman team to ever beat Jamaica in basketball three games straight.
“In the first game I had a record rebounding game with 21 rebounds and 18 points. Coach Victor ‘Voot’ O’Garro was our national coach at that time and and he was the one that made me realize my strong and weak points in the game. Before that, I was deeply involved in other sports, like track and field which gave me my first national team exposure by attending the Northwest Miami Classic with Evelyn Rockett. At this time, I was also playing football for CNB Jrs, karate and then I got into cycling with coach Ted Grey. After getting into basketball and seeing a way forward, I stopped all the other sports and stuck with it.”
These days, Thompson is based in Portsmouth and pursuing a semi-professional career in the UK. While he visits Cayman and makes guest appearances in the national basketball league, Thompson’s immediate plan is to move to London to continue his dream.
“Since I got into basketball at a young age, the NBA was never fully on my mind. I always wanted to play at the highest level I could and so far I feel like I have done so. Europe was always a place I had interest in, from doing history in school, and after looking into the league over here I made the move. My first ever experience playing professional was with a team in Cork, Ireland by the name of Neptures.”
Outside of his career ambitions, Thompson makes sure to honour his best friend by organising the Rodney Bodden Memorial three-on-three basketball tournament since 2008. The 2012 edition, which will feature UK-based international basketball company Rising Ballers, takes place this weekend, 17-19 August, with a wet fete on Friday at Automotive Art, an all-star game on Saturday at the Cayman Islands Basketball Association Court and the tournament finale on Sunday at Kings Sports Centre.
Proceeds from the event will be put towards the formation of the Rodney Bodden Foundation and then donated to Rodney’s family, the Cayman Heart Foundation and the local basketball association. Thompson states those donations will cement Bodden’s legacy.
“Rodney’s legacy should live on because of what he accomplished, the kind of person he was and the respect he received and had for everyone.”