What is the Thompson Brothers Elite Team and where did it come from?
When the Lacrosse All Stars North American Invitational (LASNAI) was first announced interest came from people all around the lacrosse community. It was going to be played at the same venue as last year’s World Indoor Lacrosse Championships (WILC), which meant it was in one of the best locations on the planet for a box lacrosse tournament, but beyond that, no one knew all that much about how things would turn out.
All Photo Credits: Ondřej Mika, LCC Radotín
If you were like me, you were anxious to see who would enter a team into the tournament. There are box lacrosse leagues of all types within a 6 hour drive of that location, so without even considering flights, there is a ton of talent within a reasonable driving distance. That’s close enough to encompass the Can-Am League, QSLL, OLA, Baltimore Indoor Lacrosse League, Boston Box Lacrosse League, New York Winter Box, 5 NLL teams, and numerous other leagues. There was instant excitement as possible teams and players swirled in my head. There was just so much potential.
But who would actually show up for a first year event?
I had some grand ideas of course, and fortunately, I was not alone in the grand ideas department, which is good, since my grand ideas always seem to die on the drawing board (I openly admit it, I can be really lazy). Enter who may be the polar opposite of me when it comes to following through on great ideas: Bill O’Brien.
What is the Thompson Brothers Elite team?
Bill O’Brien is, of course, a defender for the NLL’s New England Black Wolves, but more importantly, he is also a driving force behind Thompson Brothers Lacrosse, and their ascent to the top of post-collegiate lacrosse prominence.
Thompson Brothers Lacrosse had actually intended on starting an elite men’s team in 2017, but the new opportunity presented by the LASNAI was just too good to pass up, so the TBL elite team timeline got pushed forward by a whole year.
As Bill said, “When I saw that LaxAllstars, with Connor and Scott (Neiss), was starting a tournament here in Onondaga… I gave Connor a call that day”. He continued, “There’s always something a little more special when you can play Lacrosse where it all started. The ground beneath our feet has been hosting games since the dawn of time, and that’s an energy you can feel.”
I obviously get that, but I was still curious why a group like Thompson Brothers Lacrosse needed, or even wanted, to create a team like this…
The brothers already play in both the MLL and NLL, as well as internationally for the Iroquois Nationals, and over the Summers indoors. Their NCAA resumes are stellar, and their on-field skills leave no doubt that they are in the top tier of lacrosse players in the world.
Why would pro players want to play in an event like this, and what does forming a team like TBL Elite intend to prove?
When it comes to wins, they actually intend to prove nothing. While TBL Elite brought an unreal roster, and did win the title, the team really had no driving aspiration to win the first LASNAI championship… instead it was all about Growing The Game. Wait, that can’t be true. The Thompsons weren’t in it to win it? How does that work? If the goal isn’t to win, what IS the goal?
The main point behind all of this is that Thompson Brothers Lacrosse are trying to “democratize” the sport.
As O’Brien put it: “We want to break down barriers to entry for lacrosse. We want to give people an opportunity to watch us play, to watch Thompson Brothers Lacrosse play, and be inspired. Fans and kids have an opportunity to emulate that game, or maybe you inspire a kid to pick up a stick for the first time” .
The barriers to entry he refers to are a nod to the youth club lacrosse circuit. The stereotypical club can put a ton of financial strain on families (I know there are exceptions). When team fees, equipment, tournament costs, and travel get combined, it is easy to spend thousands of dollars for a single team over just a few months. To some starting out, they see that and just balk at the entire sport. It’s too expensive to even give it a try.
By comparison, many in the lacrosse world have seen the videos of the Thompson brothers playing 2v2 games in their back yard on an old goal that just had a piece of plywood over it acting as goalie. Their target was a small hole cut out with fractions of an inch to spare when a ball is placed inside of it.
To the Thompsons, that is developmental lacrosse. It’s not swag bags, showcase tournaments, uncommitted games, or combines. It’s the game at its most basic and pure form. This is what they had in mind as they pieced together their star-studded roster.
As O’Brien said: “You look at our roster… there’s a lot of guys on the team that have special skill sets, that are able to play the type of game that we strive to play – that’s a creative, inspirational game. Essentially, it’s the game the way it’s supposed to be played”. This team wasn’t designed to win, it was designed to inspire, and winning was simply a by-product.
Having a team like this to compete against offers other players, from all over the world, the chance to play against the best without having to crack a pro roster. The Thompsons could have spent this weekend running a very profitable clinic anywhere in the country. This is also a form of growing the game. They bring elite skills and instruction to areas that do not get to experience it often, if ever. But to O’Brien, he also thinks about the teams they play against:
“One of the things we wanted to do with TBL was have an impact in the greater lacrosse community. What better way to do that then get a bunch of pros together, bring them to the LASNAI tournament, and give anyone the chance to play defense against Miles, go 1-on-1 with myself, face off against Jeremy, or try to defend Dhane Smith?”
“Those experiences that other teams get, that other players get – some of them will be talking about that for the rest of their lives. So will we! That is an impact that we think carries more weight than just clocking in and coaching kids for a ton of money and them just hoping they’ll get a scholarship eventually.”
That last bit is something I hear all too often from parents or friends of parents that have players in the middle school and high school ranks. Lacrosse is a means to an end to many in our community. Get on the right team with the right coach at the right tournament, and you’re set for college.
Can this happen? Sure. Is it likely? No.
What the Thompsons are trying to do with this team is help people remember the soul that our game has. A few players in the LASNAI were absolutely trying to advance their lacrosse careers by getting on to an NLL roster. For almost everyone else, they are there for the love of the game and for the love of competition.
The Thompson Brothers Elite team is recognizing that players at all levels of the game can remember why they play, and what differentiates lacrosse from other sports, but instead of just preaching, they got involved, and played the game.
After the games, the Thompsons and the other pros mixed with fans, kids, vendors, and guys from other teams. They brought their families, and they were part of our larger family. They didn’t just show up and win, instead they were a real part of the event.
“You’ll hear Miles, Lyle, and Jeremy Lyle talk about the creator passing down this medicine game. And that medicine is gathered from the stick and the ball when people play 110%, when they give it their all, and when they’re having fun.”
After watching TBL Elite play, I can absolutely say that they had fun and gave it 110%. So did everyone they faced. So did every other team hoping to advance in the tournament for a shot to play against them.
After winning the inaugural LASNAI, O’Brien summed up his experience quite well: “The TBL Elite Team shaped up even better than I could have imagined. Everyone on our roster from Dhane Smith (NLL MVP) and Randy Staats (NLL Rookie of the Year) to Jerome Thompson Sr. (55 year old savvy vet) and Russ Oakes (Jr player) contributed all that they could. We set out with this team to represent what lacrosse is supposed to be, the medicine game being shared with everyone playing and watching. I believe that we spread some really good medicine that weekend and we are looking forward to doing it again next year!”
Given the intent behind this team and being able to see them with my own eyes, I really hope they can continue with their plans of bringing teams like this everywhere to compete. The on-field product is a sight to see and the off-field results have the potential to go far beyond whatever event they take part in.
Congratulations to the Thompson Brothers on winning their inaugural LASNAI, but more importantly: congratulations on forming the inaugural Thompson Brothers Elite team. I hope we see a lot more of it!