We were still hours away from the Golden State Warriors’ season opener, but it still felt like the most important morning shootaround of the season. Ostensibly, the assignment in New Orleans was to cover Buddy Hield, but when the most talked about storyline in the NBA has a tangential connection to the Bahamas, you have to take advantage of that opportunity.
We had to see Klay Thompson.
Shootaround had the proper amount of media saturation you would expect for a team like the Warriors. A team that previously set the NBA single-season to win total somehow found a way to become an even more compelling story by adding one of the greatest players of his generation – Kevin Durant, as a free agent. Schools of media traveled in packs like restless remora fish, looking to attach itself to a shark, a new angle of this story we had been hearing about all summer. As per unspoken NBA protocol, coaches are subjected to the first wave of the media horde, so naturally, they descended upon Steve Kerr. Then, almost in order of their headline-grabbing potential, the crowds built around the most outspoken character likely to create said salacious headline (Draymond Green), the reigning MVP (Steph Curry) and the new addition people can’t get enough of (Durant). This team is great because they have four All-Stars, not three, and the fourth was predictably absent. It wasn’t until this moment that I realised that Klay had bypassed the media frenzy altogether and retreated to the locker with the hushed hullabaloo you would expect the 12th man on the roster to draw. But this wasn’t the 12 man on the roster. This was a three-time All-Star, a two-time All-NBA third team selection, and NBA champion.
The 10th Year Seniors team decided to shamelessly stalk Klay outside the visitors’ locker room. After about a 20-minute wait, (somehow we thought this was a stakeout), Ricardo ran surveillance at the locker room while John and I decided to search elsewhere in the surrounding hallways of the Smoothie King Center. He had to be somewhere. A quick re-check of the court came up empty with the media still at its frenzy, but as I walked back toward the locker room, I saw a bewildered Ricardo, struggling to get a word out as he turned the corner, trying to alert me to some state of emergency. Nearly a step behind him, was a towering figure, with the stereotypical look of preservation any elite basketball player has following anything more strenuous than a walk to the refrigerator – ice packs wrapped around the knees and slowly dragging flip-flops as if to preserve every ounce of energy until the next ball bounced their way.
It was Klay.
“10th Year Seniors, you guys came all the way up here. You’re everywhere now, huh? That’s pretty cool man, you guys ‘gotta keep doing your thing, people are gonna appreciate that” Klay said.
I attempted to downplay the entire moment and salvage some semblance of a normal conversation with this person who has his own signature sneaker and has no business recognising the logo of our little blog from the Bahamas. Klay bypassed the media that day but allowed us a quick interview on his way to the team bus. We talked about Buddy, their impending head to head matchup and what it meant for the future Bahamian basketball.
In that moment we all realised something very important. Klay isn’t just a superstar. He’s a Thompson. He’s one of Mychal’s kids, and the Thompsons are our superstars.
Klay has been struggling offensively for much of these playoffs. There’s no getting around that.
In 12 games this postseason, Klay is averaging 14.4 points per game on 38 percent shooting from the field and 36 percent shooting from three. He’s taking about five fewer shots than he did during the regular season. Well down from the averages we have become accustomed to that have made him an All-NBA caliber player. Despite those shortcomings, Klay still has an outcome on the effect of a game because he’s one of the best two-way players of all the wings in the NBA. Even with the off-brand shooting numbers, he still ranks among the top five in playoff plus-minus, trailing only Curry, LeBron, Draymond and Kevin Love. Individually, he’s third in defensive rating. This means Klay will be tasked with covering everyone on the Cavaliers roster not dating a Kardashian.
“I think I’ve been playing at a high level, but I think I can play better this series,” Thompson said Wednesday, after the Warriors went through their final practice before the finals to NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper, “It’s a great challenge, obviously, guarding Kyrie Irving, LeBron, the other players. But those two guys in particular because they’re so good one-on-one. This is probably going to be my biggest challenge and I’m ready for it.”
Klay isn’t concerned about your validation of him being more than a shooter or your projection of his future unhappiness because you want him to be the number one option on a team someday.
“Doesn’t matter to me,” he said, “If I come away with the ring, that’s all I care about. It is nice to get recognition from your peers. But at the end of the day, you just want to play your hardest and you can live with it.”
He’s right about one thing, none of it matters.
I didn’t need the actual basketball reasons to still believe in Klay, but those do exist. Confirmation bias is child’s play when you have the numbers to support it. Support is really what it all boils down to. This one seems pretty straightforward in this case: Klay did a 10th Year Seniors drop, he’s out at the Jeff Rodgers Summer camp whenever he’s available, he’s never big timed us for an interview, he recognises the logo and there’s an outside shot you could see him walking into Oracle Arena or Quicken Loans Arena in a 10YS T-shirt.
To be fair and not to create a direct comparison, but Kyrie was once at the Rodgers Camp too. His appearance was a little different though. Agitated by the idea that Bahamian players would actually compete against him with outlandish notions like trash talk and defence, Irving went into full diva mode when he abruptly ended the celebrity game all on his own midway through the fourth. On one trip up the floor, Kyrie angrily threw off his jersey at center court, walked off the floor, grabbed his really expensive backpack and stormed out of the Kendal Isaacs Gym, much to the bewilderment of hundreds of kids that stayed up way past their bedtime to see a few crossovers, jump shots and hope for an autograph from Kyrie. That was a thing …..and “Kyrie Gate” prompted our very first podcast (which was awesome because it was so God awful).
Sometimes things really are that simple. Objectivity is overrated anyway.