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Klay's advice to athletes dealing with mental health issues

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  • Editor's note: All November, NBC Sports Bay Area and California's HeadStrong series will tell important stories that change the narrative surrounding mental health and sports. First up: Warriors superstar Klay Thompson details the mental challenges he faced after back-to-back season-ending injuries.

Klay Thompson is approaching nearly two and a half years since he last played in an NBA game for the Warriors. There was a time when Dub Nation didn't see the injured shooting guard on the bench during games.

Thompson lives to play basketball and when a torn left ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals stripped that away from him, it took time before he joined his teammates on the sideline.

When Thompson finally joined the Warriors for games during the 2019-20 NBA season, the anguish from not playing the game he loved was evident, clear even behind the mask he was required to wear.

Just as Thompson was getting ready to return for the pandemic-delayed 2020-21 NBA season, he suffered a torn right Achilles in a pick-up basketball game in Southern California on Nov. 18, 2020. Just like that, a second straight season was taken away from him.

That string of injuries would be crushing for anyone, but for someone with the joy of Thompson, the one-two punch of a torn ACL and then a torn Achilles was devastating. It took a full month after the Achilles injury before he broke his silence with an Instagram post.

As Thompson has progressed in his latest rehab, he has found that joy again through taking his boat out on the San Francisco Bay, spending time with his dog Rocco and getting back on the practice court.

During a recent sit-down interview for NBC Sports Bay Area's "HeadStrong" series, which will air during "Warriors Pregame Live" on Friday, Nov. 5, Thompson opened up about how he kept himself from going to a dark place during his two rehab stints.

 

"It takes great willpower," Thompson said. "And on top of that, it takes a great support team around you, friends, family, teammates. That is really important because when you do get in those dark places, you tend to isolate yourself, at least I do. So when you lean on your loved ones, you lean on your friends, that's what really got me through it, was just spending time with my friends.

"And trying to do other things to expand your mind, whether it's reading, finding a new hobby you love or just, shoot, I don't know, those two things probably helped me."

Thompson has learned a lot about himself and how to cope with major injuries over the last 29-plus months. If there's anyone that can provide advice to young athletes who might go through similar situations, it's the five-time NBA All-Star.

"I would tell that person to try and let your guard down because no one is really self-made," Thompson said. "Everyone had help along the way, no matter what industry. So I would tell that person to lean on the people that love you the most, talk out your feelings, even write out your feelings, write it down on paper. When you do that, it kind of decompresses you. You're allowed to observe your thoughts from a third perspective.

"And gosh, yeah, I would just tell them to try and lean on friends and family because nothing can be done alone, especially when it comes to sports. You got to have some guidance."

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The finish line is in sight for Thompson, with his return to game-action expected to happen before the end of the calendar year. It's been a long journey for the three-time NBA champion, but he has grown a lot as a person since June 13, 2019.

As Thompson said, he didn't get through this rehab process by himself, and he wants to make sure that future athletes dealing with difficult setbacks understand they aren't alone and they shouldn't try to go through the process by themselves.