SAN FRANCISCO – Klay Thompson deliberately sprinted across the pitch after swinging a 3 point – something he’s done countless times in his life – but it was different. As he approached the crowd on the opposite backline, the expression on his face was almost indescribable, a messy combination of all the emotions swirling through his mind and body over the past 941 days.
Anger. Sadness. Fear. Joy. To like.
A glance at him and the crowd at the Chase Center felt an immediate and overwhelming empathy. This same fragmented mosaic of feelings, both acknowledged and unrecognized, has permeated our collective consciousness since COVID-19 forcefully and violently began to cloud our lives almost two years ago. The latest omicron variant has resulted in a further spike in the number of cases, as well as countless postponements of events, including NBA games. In today’s climate, sporting events have often been seen as an unnecessary risk rather than a welcome luxury.
When Thompson was featured ahead of the Warriors’ 96-82 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, however, no one in the building worried about N95 masks, social distancing or the need to get tested after the game. For a moment, however brief, we could all feel the joy and familiarity of a true comeback story involving a player with a weird and inexplicable kinship with his fan base.
“That moment was delivered for sure. I got goosebumps on the other side of the pitch just watching,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said of Thompson’s introduction. before the match. “He deserved this welcome moment on the pitch, and it was special.”
The past two years have made the relative insignificance of sport all too evident. With death, injustice and disease enveloping our emotional centers, worrying about basketball games seems trivial, even bordering on offense. But as Thompson raced the field in his Jackie Moon blindfold, shooting 3 points and throwing a vicious dunk, it was impossible not to smile – maybe even shed a tear.
Warriors center Kevon Looney likened Thompson’s return to the moment in a sports film where the seemingly defeated protagonist boxers rise from the mat for one more round. We’ve all been through dark times that made it difficult to perceive the other side. We’ve all struggled and suffered, and – if we’re lucky – we’ve endured.
“Rehabilitation is tough, it’s lonely and it’s monotonous,” Curry said. “That’s why tonight was so special, because you recognize two years of it. It’s crazy.”
Seeing Thompson score 17 points in 20 minutes in his first game since the 2019 NBA Finals, going 3 for 8 on the 3-point arc, was thrilling, but honestly it wouldn’t have mattered if it was. he hadn’t marked any. point. Warriors coach Steve Kerr did everything he could before the game to keep from saying the outcome didn’t really matter. It was more than basketball, and everyone knew it. The fact that Thompson played well was the icing on an already delicious cake.
“I will never forget that night,” Thompson said after the game. “My God, it was fun, and it was worth every day to be away and in that squat rack or on that shuttle board, and every day of conditioning. It was worth every moment. so grateful to just compete again.… I’m not going to say equivalent to winning the championship, but, man, that was pretty close. “
Thompson’s connection to the Bay Area is one of the most unique in sports. Whether he’s live-streaming a boat ride, posting a photo with his dog Rocco, or discussing the intricacies of scaffolding on the streets of New York City, Thompson can’t go wrong with his fans. He and Curry are perhaps the most likely of all current NBA players to end their careers playing for a single franchise, and that’s part of the reason Sunday night delivered after so much anticipation.
Klay’s joy has been felt deep in the souls of Warriors fans because he is one of them. He’s a warrior in the truest sense of the word, and the past couple of years have forced us all to be warriors in one way or another.
“He’s given these fans the greatest feeling they’ve ever experienced in the past decade. He kind of feels like one of them,” Kerr said of Thompson after the game. . “Everyone is connecting with him because he’s just genuine. He’s just Klay.”
That’s why, for now at least, we put the analysis aside. We can talk about how he fits into the starting lineup, or if his defense will ever revert to what it was, or what the playoff rotations will look like.
Not this evening.
Tonight, we take the little victory as it comes and enjoy this unique and uplifting moment for what it is. Without judgement. Without skepticism.
In the grand scheme of things, is Klay Thompson playing basketball the most important triumph of our lives again? Probably not. But it does us good. And after recent events, we should know that we shouldn’t be ashamed of feeling good.
“There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what I learned,” said Thompson. “No one is self-taught. I’ve had a lot of help. A lot of help. Just lean on your loved ones and those who care the most. Hard times don’t last. Difficult people do. . “