When Klay Thompson takes the field for the Warriors at Chase Center on Sunday evening, it won’t be just him coming back. An indelible part of the soul of the team, his connect with his fans, his commitment to the game, his joy in playing – it will all come back with him.
Given that Stephen Curry, the star of the team, has a generational talent. That his mouth is Drummond Green, that he has Kevin Durant and he has a celebrity coach, Thompson’s place in the heart of the fanbase and in the Warriors outfit is remarkable.
The bond between Thompson and the team and its fans has only been deepened by two career-threatening injuries during his 2 1/2 years of rehabilitation. It will be clear when his name is announced as a start, if it can be heard throughout the thunder.
“Whether you refer to it as a close friend or teammate or someone playing for your favorite team, basketball misses kale,” former teammate Zaza Pachulia said this week. “Basketball needs Kel on the court. I can’t wait to see him, feel the energy, and celebrate his return.”
The first physical blow came on June 13, 2019. Game 6 of the NBA Finals will be remembered forever, when the Warriors lost Kel, lost the championship, lost Durant, and lost their grip of league dominance.
After 17 months of rehab for a torn ACL in his left knee, and days before the start of training camp in November 2020, Thompson tore the Achilles tendon in his right leg. Those war-torn legs, now 32, will carry them to the floor.
“I’ll cry,” said Warriors fan Sharona Good. “His first basket will be so special. I’m going to dance and cry around my room.”
For many of the Warriors fans who have loved the humble, fearless star over the past decade, Thompson’s return resonates on a deeply personal level.
“The return of Clay represents a massive moment of hope and renewal,” said Warriors fan Isaac Wheeler. “We have gone through tough, turbulent times lately, but we hold on to the promise of better days to come. The way Kel has dealt with the disappointment of sitting in so many games with positivity and good grace, He is an inspiration to all.”
Why would withdrawal trigger such gut feelings? Why do Warriors fans love Thompson so much? Let us count the ways.
On January 23, 2015, on the way to a career-best 52 points, Thompson delivered the biggest quarter of basketball in NBA history, scoring 37 points by hitting all 13 of his shots, including nine in a row from beyond the 3-point arc. ,
“It has been the most amazing experience in my six years of coaching in terms of the relationship between the players and the fans and what was happening on the floor. I am not kidding,” head coach Steve Kerr said in a 2020 interview. “I hope this doesn’t sound like an exaggeration, but it was more like a religious experience.”
After a 40-year drought that included many, many dark seasons, the Warriors mounted a stellar run to the top of the NBA behind Thompson and Steph Curry, named by the Splash Brothers for their long-range shooting prowess.
Game 6 in Oklahoma City
When Thompson delivered one of the most iconic performances in NBA playoff history, the 73–9 Warriors were on the verge of being eliminated in the Western Conference Finals.
With Golden State 2 behind the Series 3 and eight points down to enter the fourth quarter, Thompson scored 19 of his 41 points, including a Splashdown 3 and put the Warriors 104-101 ahead. (He won 108-101.)
“Before going out in the fourth, Steph said to me, ‘It’s your time,'” Thompson said. “I took those words to heart.”
a man’s best friend
Shortly after the Warriors made Thompson the 11th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Washington State product adopted Rocco, a two-month-old French Bulldog who had been his constant companion for a decade.
Sometimes Rocco’s fame clashes with the fame of its owner. He appears in public, starring in commercials for this news organization and was the name of a limited-edition shoe with his face under the strap.
“(Dogs) are just ordinary creatures,” Thompson told a Bay Area newsgroup in 2018. “They just want affection, exercise, and some treats. And I’m a simple guy.”
60 points on 11 dribbles
In one of the greatest catch-and-shoot performances the league has ever seen, Thompson scored a career-high 60 points in less than 30 minutes against the Indiana Pacers on December 5, 2016.
“It’s a feat I’ll put my money on that will probably never be touched again in basketball history,” Curry said.
Thompson’s 60 points through three quarters were second only to Kobe Bryant’s 62 in the 2005 game. But no one could match the feat: Thompson scored his 60 points on 11 dribbles.
14 3-pointers set new NBA record
No one has scored more three-point shots in a career or in a season than Curry. But no one has made it to a game more than Thompson. He scored 14 runs in the 2018 game in Chicago. He scored 10 runs in the first half, placing him in three of Curry’s records.
“Steph looked at the box score (at halftime) and said, ‘Go get it,'” Thompson relayed. “And it just shows you the selflessness that’s within.”
Game 6, and Free Throw
Sitting under the basket, grabbing his left knee, after being fouled in a dunk attempt in the third quarter of Game 6 against Toronto, Thompson rose to his feet and made his way off the floor. He had disappeared into the tunnel when suddenly he reappeared and made his way to the free-throw line. He will take – and make – both free throws.
Then he went back on defense, on a knee that would require surgery and sidelined him for the next 15 months.
“Clay is crazy, to say the least,” Drummond Green said postgame.
kale on camera
Thompson’s on-court exploits have won the hearts of Warriors fans. But his off-court personality is a major factor in a love affair that extends far beyond Warriors Nation. HI’s visit to China during the 2017 season spawned several viral moments and a trending hashtag #ChinaKlay.
Rocco is, and is now the Splash Express or Nordic Knife, or whatever name Thompson happens to be calling the 37-foot boat he bought to ease his mind during a long rehabilitation. He cruises to work and makes Instagram live videos during his aquatic commute in the Bay.
Warriors fan Rod de Guzman said, “I wasn’t fond of Kel before.” “However, over time, his polite, laid-back demeanor and unintentionally hilarious media interviews turned me into his biggest fan.”
In November, 2019, Thompson made an appearance on the NBCSBA during a Warriors broadcast, in which he acted as “reporter Kel” but a color analyst with play-by-play man Bob Fitzgerald and color commentator Kelena Azubuik. acted more.
Thompson wasn’t necessarily a broadcast natural, but his authenticity is part of what makes him so attracted to fans.
“Kel is who he is, he’s not hiding anything,” Pachulia said. “He’s not holding anything away. He doesn’t talk much, but whenever he does speak, he really speaks from his mind and from his heart. You appreciate a person being so authentic.”
The fact is that before the injuries Thompson was dear. But those injuries, their seriousness and the circumstances surrounding them, have deepened fans’ feelings for them.
A Warriors fan can tell you where they were when they heard the news that Thompson blew his Achilles during a pickup game in November of 2020.
He has shared his pain, let’s see. There was one night last season when his emotions took him to the bench, and Curry came to comfort him. Or more recently when he sat on the bench 30 minutes after the end of the game and the arena was cleared, a towel over his head, providing privacy in a public moment of pain.
“There are things we don’t even know what they had to do because we don’t see much of it,” Pachulia said. “We see him posting pictures or going live on Instagram and he seems happy, but trust me, he had a lot of dark days.”
There will be light tonight. Clay is back.