Bruce Fraser, a champion surfer and the talks Klay needed


SAN FRANCISCO -- Straddling his surfboard in the waters of the Baja peninsula, Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser turns to Klay Thompson. It's the middle of February, the 2023 NBA All-Star break. A time of hoopla and festivities for a select few, and relaxation for the rest of the league. 

Fraser points to a companion of the water, a king at his sport as Thompson has been on the court.

The fellow surfer is Gerry Lopez. He's now 74 years old, the Pipeline Masters winner in 1972 and 1973, and then named the Waterman of the Year in 1999. Thompson knows trophies, he knows accolades. 

That's not what Fraser was interested in. He knows just like Lopez, Thompson's worth is more than recognition. 

"I pointed to him as a model for Klay and just said, 'You know, that guy lives. He's an enlightened spirit and mind,' " Fraser told NBC Sports Bay Area ahead of the playoffs. "He does most things with intention. He practices yoga in the morning, he's a very enlightened person. And I said, 'That guy does everything with intention,' kind of pointing to him. I said, 'You can model your life after that.'

"This guy is not some like reckless recluse. His mind's at a higher level, and you can see it in his intent. He was a world champion and just the way he moves and speaks and walks, he's kind of one of those masters of higher thinking."

At 58 years old, Fraser wants to make it clear he isn't some guru. There was no secret sauce to his method. He didn't make a self-help book recommendation. He didn't go into some sermon. 

"I just said, 'That guy right there is a higher-level thinker,' " Fraser remembers.

Before every Warriors game, at Chase Center or on the road, Fraser can be seen conducting Steph Curry's famed pregame routine. The two start with what looks like the beginning of a concert. There's always some kind of creative trick shot involved. Usually a handful of half-court heaves splash to the delight of fans, home or away. 

Many connect Fraser with Curry. But he and Thompson have a different kind of connection. 

The Warriors assistant coach says the two are "kindred spirits" for their love of the ocean, beach, water, sun and overall fun. He knows Thompson at a level beyond basketball. Fraser understands him. He saw, and felt, Thompson's frustrations at parts of this season, especially early on. 

Even with four championship rings, even with five All-Star Games, even with two All-NBA teams, even with the most 3-pointers in a single game, even with the most points scored in a quarter and even with perhaps the most picture-perfect jump shot in NBA history, Klay was being questioned left and right at the start of the 2022-23 season. 

Critics on the outside saw all of those accolades as nothing but the past. Thompson wanted them to look back no further than a few months. Last season, he made his miraculous comeback on Jan. 9, 2022, after missing the last 941 days. A torn left ACL followed by a right Achilles tear after recovering from his knee injury snatched two years of his prime. 

His age-29 and age-30 seasons were taken away for reasons out of his control, both times on hardwood that so often has been home. 

Charles Barkley's harsh words hurt Thompson. His frustrations were heard at times and also seen on the court. He was ejected for the first time in his career, breaking a streak of 651 straight games, when what started as trash talk between Thompson and Devin Booker escalated with the Warriors star being sent to the showers. 

That was the fifth game of the season. Booker, who is six years younger, had 20 points at the time. Thompson had two, going 1 of 8 from the field and 0 of 5 from 3-point range in a little over 18 minutes. 

Thompson didn't play pickup or scrimmage all offseason. The last time he did, he tore his Achilles in a Southern California pickup game. His season started slow on both sides of the ball. Questions about his present and further were cranked up. 

Thompson then stepped away from social medial media, a decision he doesn't regret one bit.

"I've learned through my years through some of the successful people and also some of the higher-level thinkers, success can be defined in so many ways," Fraser said. "But I would say, based on things I've read, and you just learn things, but I felt like there was a higher level of a higher kind of medium he could get to with his mind that he wasn't using in all things. He has the capacity to think on bigger terms, but in any business, especially this, you can really get caught up in your own thoughts.

"The way you see the game or the world, it's a very constricting business in that way. Not because people are shallow but because you're just always constantly in the crux of it all. You're just fighting for wins and your space on the floor. There's a lot of things that pull you into the ability not to think on a bigger scale. And I voiced that to him.

"He puts a lot of pressure on himself anyway. He wants to be good and you don't see it with kind of his stone-face exterior. He's not nervous, he just puts pressure on himself, because he wants to be successful."

It was the summer of 2020 when Thompson first visited Fraser at his second home. He later said the trip changed his life. Nobody knew who he was. Life's luxuries weren't wanted or needed.

At the time, there was no other place he was meant to be than right there.

"He went nuts because it's pretty remote," Fraser said. "It's more authentic than some of the resort places. I think it spoke to him."

Fraser had been pushing Thompson and others to meet him in Mexico for years. A little under three years later, his All-Star break invitation didn't come with any preconceived notions or real intentions. Their time spent together wasn't a retreat. It didn't lack results, though.

With 58 games done, 46 for Thompson, the calendar called for a break for everyone. 

They were only there for a short time. The trip lasted a few days of the Warriors' week-long break. Fraser and Thompsons surfed, surrounded themselves around the water and beaches, watched the sunsets and simply hung out, deflecting all the madness basketball brings. 

Their recharge was complete.

"It helped me relax," Thompson told NBC Sports Bay Area about his conversations with Fraser.

The Warriors assistant coach refers to those conversations as "spur of the moment." Basketball was brought up from a voice that resonates past the sidelines.

"I mean, you never know with him," Fraser said. "He always retains stuff. He's a very good listener. I was hoping that on a bigger thinking level it would impact him. But I wasn't saying things to selfishly just get something out of our conversation. It wasn't like I have these words of wisdom for all people.

"But for him in particular, I know him so well. And I know our team and I know how he is. He's very smart. He observes everything. He just doesn't always speak on it. And I felt that he could get to a greater height, basketball wise and mind wise.

"I didn't feel like he was maximizing his potential of his mind. So I spoke on it in terms that were broad, but also applicable to him -- he and the game."

RELATED: Klay's newfound 'vintage two-way' impact shines in Game 4 win

Lopez wasn't used as a model in Fraser's message this time. He might as well have been. Lopez became the Hawaii State champion at 14 years old, was seen as the best tuberiber in the world at 23 and 24 years and just kept evolving. 

Fifty years ago, Lopez won his second straight Pipeline Masters competition. Since then, he has helped the sport grow in and out of the water. Lopez for years has played an integral role in surfboard manufacturing. He has been an actor, an author and is a Patagonia ambassador. 

Through everything, he has adapted and evolved.

Using icons like Michael Jordan and others, Fraser wanted Thompson to see new avenues to never stop evolving. Rebounding was a driving force. Finding new ways to win were exchanged. He'll always get his shot, but he also can create shots for others. His body isn't what it once was, and that's OK. 

Five games post-All-Star break, Thompson grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds. That marked his fourth straight game with at least five rebounds. Two weeks later, he again had 11 rebounds. 

Over his final 23 games, a refreshed and renewed Klay averaged 22.8 points on 46.7-percent shooting and 43.9 percent from deep. Then there's the rebounding. He fought for 4.7 rebounds per game, a clear increase from before the break. 

That pushed his season average to a career-best 4.1 rebounds a night. 

"He always listens to people," Fraser says. "He doesn't always put it to use. It wasn't even an attempt. It was just ... it was just me observing him because, like I said, he's very smart. He listens. He's observant. Those are qualities he always has regardless. So, you know, he chooses like all people do to use words, thoughts, advice from the people that they choose to take that from.

"We have a kindred spirit. Not everything I say to him he he puts to use, and not everything I say to him is meant to be put to use."

Klay wasn't even a week out from his 33rd birthday when he ventured to visit his coach, confidant and friend at a destination that first put him on the path he was searching for. He listened loud and clear once more, and Fraser knows it, whether those were his hopes or not.

Frustrations, postgame paper airplanes and funny gaffes aren't going away. And that's OK, too.

From Baja to basketball courts and everywhere in between, Klay Thompson is doing what we all strive to do. He's evolving, when so many said the game flew right past him.

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