How Klay Thompson’s injury rehab helped Warriors star find ‘balance of life’

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How overcoming injuries helped Klay learn ‘the balance of life’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s a few minutes past noon Monday when Klay Thompson grabs the Larry O’Brien trophy, flashes a broad grin and lifts it high above the captain’s hat atop his head, inviting the outpouring of love from thousands of Warriors fans lining Market Street. The higher he lifts, the louder the roar. It’s not enough.

He takes the stairs to the lower level of the double-decker bus on the parade route, slips out the exit and onto the street and dashes along the barriers, losing the battle against surging bodies. He lets those bleeding Dub Nation blood touch the trophy emblematic of the NBA Finals winner and lets them reach out and brush against him.

“What is he doing going out there with all those people?” asks Julie Thompson, directing concern to anyone willing to listen. Thompson is not.

“That’s my son,” she says in resignation. “A risk-taker.”

Klay always was willing to embrace a challenge. To turn his eyes upon himself, take a peep inside and see how much he could do with what he saw. It’s different now, though. He peeps less and does more.

The torn left ACL sustained on June 13, 2019, in Game 6 of the Finals against the Raptors, opened a door Thompson never needed to walk through. He had no choice but to do so. The ruptured right Achilles tendon sustained 17 months later, in the final stages of ACL rehab, briefly darkened his mood.

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That was before the walls tumbled and the roof was cleared and, there it was, a 360-degree view. Life-changing.

“I learned,” Thompson says, “a lot about the balance of life.”

Those lessons would come during Thompson’s 31 months — 941 days — in a vicious cycle. Surgery, recovery, rehab, surgery, recovery, rehab. So much of what he had become accustomed to, from shooting in the gym to diving into the sea to long explorations with his beloved dog, Rocco, were taken away.

In their place were movies and books and reflection and a deeper look into American society as it existed outside the personal bubble that surrounded him for the first 29 years of his charmed life.

“He didn’t feel sorry for himself because he realized there are a lot of people with problems much bigger than his,” says Mychal Thompson, his father and a two-time NBA champion as a member of the Showtime Lakers in the late 1980s. “People with terminal illnesses. Homelessness. Poverty. He had time to really look at the world around him and see it for what it was.

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“This whole process has made him more introspective. And appreciative.”

After living within the reputation, fair or not, of someone who kept his life as simple as possible — basketball, Rocco and a female companionship — Thompson at 32 is commenting on such matters as racial injustice, social inequality and things that matter beyond 3-point shots.

Do not worry, Warriors fans. Thompson still lives to see the 3-ball splash through the bottom of the net. That remains in his field of vision, but it’s accompanied by a greater acknowledgement of nuance throughout process.

“My appreciation of the stuff we have to do every day to play this game is a lot higher than it used to be,” he says. “The losses you take. The shots you miss. The off nights and slow mornings. All of it. It’s special.”

He even welcomes the “haters.” Thompson has some regret about comments he made shortly after the Game 6 victory in Boston that gave the Warriors the championship. Referring to Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr., who after a 123-95 win over the Warriors in March took to Twitter to mock their “Strength in Numbers” slogan, Thompson called him a “freakin’ bum.”

“That was unnecessary,” Mychal Thompson says, and his son would not disagree.

“For every one of these fans that want to see us succeed,” Thompson said, gesturing to the throng, “there’s always those who don’t. But it’s like [rapper] French Montana says, ‘If you ain’t got haters, you ain’t poppin’.’”

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Haters drive the Warriors’ core trio of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Thompson. Each entered the NBA to shrugs of doubt and yawns of preconceived notions. Even now, with a combined 17 All-Star Game appearances, they still derive immense gratification from silencing skeptics.

Game 6 was, for all of them, delicious affirmation.

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For Thompson, the 2022 NBA Finals validated the grueling labor of 31 months away from the games.

“This one feels so special — so special,” he says of his fourth championship as a member of the Warriors. “I appreciated the others, but this one is different. I’ll always cherish it because it feels like completing a journey.

It was a long journey. This is the greatest culmination of all that.

Under normal circumstances, Klay would conduct a summer camp for aspiring hoopers. Not this summer. He’s coming off 45 months, dating back to training camp in September 2018, in which he was playing basketball, undergoing surgeries, recovering and rehabbing.

This summer will be about finding a deeper satisfaction in and enjoyment of the balance of life.

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