It's impossible for Klay Thompson's Achilles injury to not make your heart break
So a story can make your heart break - even for a multimillionaire who has on the surface walked the elusive American tightrope of "having it all".
First, make him incredibly personable, not in a sanitized way, but in a way that you might not like him.
Second, give him everything: money, talent, a championship, a great city to live in, respect and admiration - from his peers and the public, the perfect amount of fame, and a wonderful dog named Rocco.
Then make sure the viewer knows what they really want. Let him play through injury. Have it appear randomly on dishes halfway around the world and generate a hashtag. Make him like that kid in high school who takes a basketball everywhere and takes it away because he can't resist the urge to practice his form in the middle of class. Make him the guy who just wants to mature.
Cool. Now take it away from him. And when he's on the brink of his return, take it away again.
Thanks to an ACL tear, Klay Thompson hadn't played an NBA game in 526 days. Just weeks before putting on a Golden State Warriors jersey again, he tore his Achilles tendon. So pin another 300 or so. And here's one last, gruesome twist in your stomach: Thompson was injured in the pickup. He just wanted to mature.
Mission accomplished. Hearts: broken. And why shouldn't they be?
Klay Thompson hasn't played an NBA game since June 2019. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)
Sport is how we watch other people live. Klay is an everyday inspiration for anyone lucky enough to follow him closely. You learn so much from watching him.
The best way to watch him is to watch his feet. From the waist up, Thompson shoots the same shot every time. A perfect shot is a distillation of what I admire in professional athletes and even more so in basketball players and even more in legendary shooters and even more in Klay: the ability to do the same thing over and over and keep loving it enough to to master it.
With every shot you can be a little faster, a little smoother, a little more peppy, a little more perfect. Refinement, shedding who you were and who you become.
Thompson's signature performances build up as he finds more interesting ways to get open or frank and shuffling back and forth like someone you just met in a narrow hallway. Towards the end of his 37-point quarter against Sacramento, he was standing on the 3-point line, pointing at the floor as if he wanted a screen that brought his defender closer but crouched down. Bang.
Klay's footwork is both flawless and sometimes marginal. Unnecessary. The first time I realized he was different was when he started taking regular shots without his feet set.
Since then we have seen him warp more and more. No position too far, no angle too ridiculous. It culminated in that playoff shot against Oklahoma City. You know the one. Thompson isn't the best spot-up shooter of all time because his shot is perfect. It's because it is so even when it is not.
The top half is perfection. The bottom half is what comes after: Invention.
After scoring 60 points in three quarters on three dribbles, TNT reporter Rosalyn Gold-Onwude Thompson asked how he hadn't cooled down halfway. "Don't let 40 [points] catch you," he said. “I'm just trying to play every possession the way it matters, and it did. We're trying to build great habits. “And what would have happened if he had played in the fourth quarter?” Who knows? Hopefully, hopefully ... I don't know, Ros, "he said." That's a good question. Who knows? "They keep shooting. Some get noticed. Hopefully they'll accumulate. Regression isn't guaranteed. Neither is continuation. Neither is anything else.
Thompson seems to have the old Zen-like Sagittarius psychology on and off the court. The goldfish, which can be borrowed from Ted Lasso, is the luckiest animal as its memory is only 10 seconds. The truth is that many Sagittarians go to great lengths to achieve this state. You free yourself from fear, shot by shot. Ray Allen did the same thing every game day:
From Jackie MacMullan in the Boston Globe:
“His pre-game ritual doesn't waver: a nap from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm, a meal of chicken and white rice at 2:30 pm, arriving at the gym at exactly 3:45 am to stretch. Everyone will shave their heads and then go to court at exactly 4:30 am. He will methodically take pictures of both baselines, both elbows and the top of the wrench. "
For Ray, every day was as carefully worked out as his firing mechanics. He shot himself clean.
Are you hacking your routine so your body, brain, and surroundings don't conspire to keep you from being in the moment? In 2020? Who among us cannot relate? Meditation apps, exercises, social media blockers, tips to reduce screen time, tips to do nothing - a billion dollar industry benefits from the fact that we just can't relax.
But Klay seems to wake up like that, fully alive, active and without expectation. When we see him on the pitch, he is living everyone's dream.
Lately, fake stories about athletes are trending. During the 2019 NBA Finals, that tweet went viral.
(I totally fell for it.) And then there is that.
Our absurd fan fiction is Klay Thompson's music: man on the street became a scaffolding expert, ate pizza in the middle of a press conference, and showed himself to the Hamptons a few days early during the first recruiting field for Kevin Durant to ride to the beach, play tennis and kick the soccer ball with the gardener. Life is his playground.
The world shifts around him, defenders step in, but Klay was always just Klay, Klaying around. Something about it is inspiring at the moment. Or at least mitigate - the idea that someone is dealing with life somewhere out there. I looked forward to watching him do it.
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