Each week during the 2021-22 NBA season, we will take a deeper dive into some of the league’s biggest storylines in an attempt to determine whether the trends are based more in fact or fiction moving forward.
[ Last week’s Fact or Fiction: Karl-Anthony Towns, the forgotten star ]
Klay Thompson is the coolest basketball player alive
NBA stars have bounced from team to team in pursuit of happiness both on and off the court, only to find the discontentment that led them from their last stop has followed them to their latest one. Like any of us, they cannot merely rely on outside influences to provide the fulfillment they seek. Peace comes from within.
There is no better example of this than Klay Thompson’s 941-day odyssey between basketball games.
I will not pretend to know how difficult the past two-plus years have been on Thompson, whose ACL and Achilles injuries kept him from the game he loves since robbing him of a title shot, but the combination of calmness, joy and appreciation we had witnessed from him in the meantime did not happen by accident.
I cannot imagine anyone embracing the moment more than Thompson. The man and his beloved bulldog take their boat to work, where he wields his craft as one of the greatest shooters in the history of the sport. There is beauty in the simplicity of his approach that makes you wonder why we complicate everything.
Of his dog, Thompson has said, “I like to enjoy nature. So does he. It’s just fun to take your dog to the park. It’s one of the most simple but most fun things to do.” And of his boat, Thompson said, “The ocean and free diving and spear fishing and boating bring me joy, second only to winning basketball games, really.”
Now, we can’t all have dogs, and we can’t all have boats, and we certainly can’t all be five-time All-Stars for the three-time champions working on a $38 million salary in one of the country’s great seaside cities, but he is living the life we all wish we would if we were NBA stars, and such clarity is easier dreamed than lived.
The son of an NBA champion, Thompson had a leg up on us from the start, but he worked to get where he is, and you get the sense if he played elsewhere, he would be hiking the Rocky Mountains, smoking some Memphis-style barbecue, fly fishing the Provo River or getting up shots on the backside of an Indiana barn.
You get the sense he would be finding similar joy as a construction worker in New York City, because, well, no NBA player has so calmly talked scaffolding in a man-on-the-street interview for the city’s nightly news.
Whether he is reading the newspaper at his locker or sitting transfixed for 35 minutes on the Chase Center court as the arena emptied around him on a late-November win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Thompson is present in a throwback way we can all admire. All of which made his return to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday so special, because an appreciative star had 941 days to appreciate the moment even more.
Thompson spent the eve of his comeback on his boat, the morning of his return at the park with his dog and the afternoon with his family. No phone, no internet. He “slept very well” in between and transferred his tranquility to the court, where he once again basked in the warmth of the crowd and his love for the game.
“Those are very special moments. I’ll never forget this night,” he told reporters after getting up 18 shots in 20 minutes of a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, including eight 3-pointers and a cathartic dunk through traffic. “I’ll never forget the reception the Warriors fans gave us, especially myself. Gosh, it was fun, and it was worth every single day of being away, in that squat rack or on that shuttle board, all the conditioning days, it was worth every single moment, and I’m so grateful to just compete again. It’s been a long road.
“I’m also proud of myself for persevering,” he added, crediting by name trainers who helped him. “It was a very special moment I’ll never forget. I’m not going to say it was equivalent to winning a championship, but, man, it was pretty freaking close, because there were times in the past where you second-guess yourself. You think [whether] you’re going to be the same player or have the same explosion or whatever term, and just to be able to go out there, shoot the ball, play defense and compete, I mean, man, it was special.”
Everything we want in a basketball player, from the skill and commitment to his craft to the bond he has formed with his city and the gratitude for it all, Thompson earnestly shared with us. Those qualities elicited a collective euphoria from current and former teammates, foes and fans who let his joy of basketball wash over them, too. If only we could have bottled Thompson’s inner peace on our journey these past two years.
So, yeah, with respect to headliners Damian Lillard and Devin Booker, veterans Lou Williams and PJ Tucker, and rising stars Ja Morant and Anthony Edwards, among others, Klay Thompson is the coolest player alive.
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