The two places Klay Thompson feels most at home are a basketball court and the open waters. As he has waited and waited and waited to return to the court in a Warriors jersey after two and a half years away due to two devastating injuries and grueling rehab processes, Thompson has found peace on his boat.
He also has provided pure entertainment, singing songs, making fun of teammates and telling Dub Nation how much he can't wait to be back. What seemed like another must-watch Instagram Live from the Splash Brother this past Monday turned into the perfect mantra for these last 941 days and his long-awaited return to the Warriors.
"It's been a long journey," Klay said while wearing his San Francisco Giants captain's hat. "But guess what, smooth waters never made a skilled sailor."
Yeah, it was another time Thompson made us laugh in ways only he can. At the same time, truer words haven't been said about his recovery.
After tearing his ACL on a dunk attempt in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, a performance in which he still scored a game-high 30 points in 32 minutes, the Warriors' star shooting guard heroically walked back through the tunnel of Oracle Arena and drained both of his free throws. He even ran back down the court on defense -- with a torn ACL -- before being removed and starting an absence too long and too hard for the heart.
He did everything right. He put in the work, he clocked in and out on a daily basis collecting hours of overtime. And it still wasn't enough. The game that has given him so much again took away everything.
On the day that the Warriors were supposed to be celebrating another milestone for their future, tears again were shed. Golden State came into Nov. 18, 2020, with the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft. That same day, Thompson tore his Achilles during a workout in Southern California. Another season gone for Klay, another season lost for the Warriors.
As he makes his return Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers and gives Bay Area sports fans something they have never seen, Klay Thompson will be a walking testament of pain, heartbreak, hard work, determination and now jubilation. For someone who famously said he wasn't going to sacrifice s--t upon Kevin Durant's arrival, he sacrificed everything for what he loves most and gained perspective in the ocean, a place he could feel freedom when he could have been filled with anger.
Look at the last decade-plus of the Warriors, and Klay isn't alone in smooth waters not making a skilled sailor. This is especially true for the other two that make up the Warriors' Big Three of Klay, Steph Curry and Draymond Green. What bonds them most is the rocky waters that they have had to navigate out of before bringing this franchise three championships and five straight trips to the Finals.
Starting with Curry, the baby-faced, rail-thin guard entered the 2009 draft with loads of questions after dominating small-school competition at Davidson, despite putting on a show against the bigger schools in March Madness. Was he a point guard or a shooting guard? Could he do more than just shoot 3-pointers from ungodly distances? At first, many of the answers to those questions didn't end in favor of the eventual two-time MVP and all-time great.
Non-stop issues with his ankles held Curry to only 26 games his third season in the NBA and he averaged just 17.5 points per game through those first three years. That led to Curry signing a pedestrian four-year, $44 million contract the morning before Steph was to start his fourth season with the Warriors. Well, that deal was the reason Golden State was eventually able to sign Durant, and Curry averaged 22.9 points his first year in his new deal as he turned into one of the best players in basketball history while making us all re-imagine how the game can be played.
Even after being named Big Ten Player of the Year as a senior and putting together one of the most prolific careers in Michigan State history, nobody knew what position the 6-foot-6 Green would play at the next level. He fell to the second round in the 2012 draft before the Warriors swooped him up at No. 35 overall. Draymond started just one game as a rookie and 12 his second year in the league before it was beyond clear that his value on both sides of the ball had exceeded that of David Lee.
Since then, Green has been the engine that makes Golden State go on offense and defense. He already has been named Defensive Player of the Year once, guarding all positions and refusing to back down to any opponent. He's the true definition of a point-forward, and like Curry, changed how so many see the evolution of a positionless game.
Then, there's Klay.
Many questioned his athleticism going into the 2011 draft and if he could be more than a one-dimensional player. Nobody envisioned the two-way star that he turned into. NBADraft.Net compared him to Marco Belinelli, a fine role player but one on a different planet compared to Klay. He was the Pac-10's leading scorer in 2011 but was suspended for Washington State's regular-season finale for marijuana possession after scoring 22 points and leading the Cougars to a win over USC.
The Warriors selected Thompson with the No. 11 pick, one slot after Jimmer Fredette went off the board. Kyrie Irving, the top pick in the 2011 draft, is the only player from the class who has had a career comparable to Klay's.
These last two and a half years have challenged Thompson in ways that he couldn't have ever imagined. It's clear it also opened his mind in ways that weren't possible before. There still will be challenges ahead, the waters won't always be perfect, and he's completely fine with that.
Smooth waters never made a skilled sailor, and they certainly didn't make Klay Thompson who he is -- and the same goes with two other Warriors legends, creating a trio unlike any other.