Klay Thompson

Klay leaves Warriors, Dub Nation with enduring image

NBC Universal, Inc.

Listen to the eruption. Let your ears do the watching. 

The elation. It starts with a few claps and one distant scream. It collectively grows to an ear-rattling representation of the cage that was Oracle Arena, responding only how those Warriors fans could to Klay Thompson’s act of what felt like peak heroism. 

Minutes before, Thompson had taken a franchise-altering fall to the court after colliding in the air with Toronto Raptors guard Danny Green in the third quarter during Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. It was later announced Thompson sustained a torn left ACL in what was the first blow to a devastating stretch of leg injuries that stole his prime playing years.

Their fallen soldier had somehow risen to his feet to yet again battle for a mere chance at scratching, clawing and fighting for the grand prize Golden State had become so accustomed to.

How? They didn’t know how. Klay probably still doesn’t know how either. 

Go back to the beginning. Keep listening to more than 19,000 fans screaming in unison, but invite your eyes to the singular moment Thompson should be remembered for most at a time when many can’t help but hang their heads at the fact that it’s over – that Thompson decided to move on by joining the Dallas Mavericks as an unrestricted free agent in a three-team sign-and-trade deal. 

The limp is the first thing you see when Thompson emerges from the tunnel. It’s impossible not to see then-Warriors general manager Bob Myers behind Thompson stop to stare at the ground, nervously and anxiously scratching at his forehead. Myers knows what the crowd doesn’t. 

For a region that isn’t considered a staple of die-hard sports fans, the pride and joy was deafening. There’s the goofy guy in a tracksuit wearing a red Supreme headband who can’t contain his emotions, and a befuddled G-Eazy taking in Klay’s act of bravery. There are cell phones in sight, though they aren’t the overarching eyesore that can take away the grandeur moments. 

Thompson is the son of a Los Angeles Lakers two-time champion born in LA whose younger days were a mixture of Southern California and the Pacific Northwest. On that night, and so many others, he was Oakland’s son. His home base for the basketball season is now Dallas. An examination of the Bay’s heart will always hold a spot for Klay near its core. 

The first graphic that shows up is a brutal reminder of what Thompson has endured. Up to that point he had played 122 playoff games and missed one – a 14-point loss to the Raptors earlier in the Finals. He led the league in games played each of his first two seasons and averaged 78 games played his other six seasons before the night of June 13, 2019. 

The Warriors had their Iron Man. And then, they didn’t for two-plus seasons.

By NBA rules, Thompson had to come back to the court and shoot his two free throws since Green’s aggressive play wasn’t a flagrant foul. The message was relayed while Thompson was walking to the locker room. Whatever concoction of competitive juices Klay had flowing through him beat the reality of what the body could handle. 

His first free throw sank through behind a chorus of “M-V-P” chants. The next free throw was perfect, barely tickling the net. The two free throws gave Thompson 30 points in under 32 minutes. He hopped twice and then did the unthinkable of trying to run back on defense. 

For how badly Klay wanted to keep going, the Warriors had to get him off the court. 

The miracle was over. So was the Warriors’ dynasty. 

Drearily watching the days go by and staring at clocks in hopes of finding a superpower to speed up time, Thompson painfully waited 941 days to again play in a game for the Warriors. He was 29 years old and at the top of his game when he went down against the Raptors, and one month away from turning 32 upon his return. 

Then he gave us The Dunk. 

Game 6 Klay. The unthinkable of a 37-point quarter. Shooting form that will be taught by basketball coaches long after Thompson’s playing days are done. All the memes, all the nicknames, all the boat rides and all four championship parades. There are so many images to remember Klay Thompson by in his decade-plus of historic excellence with the Warriors.

While numerous memories run through your own head, turn back to five years ago and again let your ears be your eyes. Open them and you’ll see Klay coming down from a dunk in his first game back that let him levitate to the rafters where his jersey one day will be. Thompson did a full turn on his way down, landing on both legs that unfairly let him down.

Disappointment will one day dissipate. The sting from heartache countless Warriors fans are feeling is fresh. Joy will overcome. It’s what Klay Thompson would want. 

It’s what he created, fueled by resiliency as the true underlying factor that has taken him this far. It’s cruel that the night the lights went out encapsulates who Klay has been for the last 13 years: A Warrior in every way, always and forever.

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