In Honor Of the Bay Area’s Seafaring Splash Brother, Klay Thompson

With his recent departure to the Dallas Mavericks after a historic career with the Golden State Warriors, Alan Chazaro argues that he's in the conversation for the best two-way hooper ever.
By    July 9, 2024
Klay Thompson vs. Jared Dudley (cropped)” by Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Dr. Dre’s The Chronic being listed as one of the best Bay Area rap albums is why Alan Chazaro doesn’t trust anything generated by AI.

With 57 points already, Klay Thompson runs off a JaVale McGee screen and smoothly positions himself for a deep elbow three-pointer. Paul George fights through it to stay in his grill. But with unflappable ease, Klay floats the shot over George’s outstretched and helpless limbs. I don’t need to tell you what happens next.

Oracle Arena transforms with an energy that can only be described as a religious out-of-body ceremony. 19,596 simultaneously enter a collective state of higher consciousness by witnessing pure Spalding witchcraft.

60 points in only 29 minutes on 11 dribbles.

On December 5th, 2016, I was in those upper level seats, sitting next to tech bros and homegrown East Bay families, as the Golden State Warriors mollywhopped the Indiana Pacers in an otherwise drab regular season game. It started out like any other game during that year of Death Lineup executions. Surrounded by Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, Klay turned in one of his most marquee performances, a declarative statement from the fifth-year shooter. At this time, local advertisements inside BART stations and TV commercials on CSN Bay Area had all but abandoned Klay, one half of the immortal Splash Brothers, in favor of playing up the team’s sexy KD acquisition.

But Klay lived in his own stratosphere and perennially did own his thing. As a lifelong Warriors fan, my favorite kinds of nights came whenever Klay assassinated and outshot everyone else on the court, including his teammates, who happened to be the other best snipers on the planet.

Since being drafted to the team as the 11th overall pick in 2011, #11 has shown up for himself, for his teammates and for his fans — especially when it mattered most. There’s a reason he was dubbed Killa Klay by fans and onlookers. Nary a hooper has been more clutch for those dynastic Warriors. And when he wasn’t murking defenders, dude could certainly be found chartering entire planes of IG models to Cabo San Lucas, or wave riding past the Bay Bridge on a kayak on his way to practice until his number was called again for bucket-getting deployment.

It’s easy to forget that when Klay was selected out of Washington State University, no one really knew who he was. He joined the Dubs at a time when fan-beloved shooting guard, Monta Ellis, was still starting. It’s easy to forget that it was scary hours for the Warriors franchise and then-rookie Klay Thompson before the Splash Bros truly splashed. I’m talking two decades of cellar-dwelling sadness before the MVP trophies and Larry O’Brien banners started to flow. And here was Klay — a quiet, even-keeled middle child and son of the Bahamian-raised NBA champion, Mychal Thompson — who helped right the sinking ship.

Maybe that’s what the Bay most adored about Klay. Not just his supernova in-game explosions, but the exact juncture at which he arrived, and the many sides that he gave us throughout his maturation into superstar. For 13 seasons, he provided an uncanny sprawl of selves that alleviated our stresses in ways no other player could. He delivered in the clutch and made us collectively appreciate the art of winning without forcing victory. Most impressively, he did it all while being relatably goofy.

Thompson embraced the Bay Area’s great weirdness with a great weirdness of his own in a way that no other star athlete of his caliber who suited up in the Yay has done with an equivalent longevity, success and idiosyncrasy. This is the man who wore a sea captain’s hat out in public then accidentally tripped on a street gate and tumbled over a fan during the 2022 championship parade in San Francisco – nearly face planting on concrete before he restored his balance by knocking over a much smaller woman.

He’s famously a gentle, taciturn soul whose best friend, Rocco, is a stout, 50-pound English bulldog with an equally chill energy and who became just as much of a local celebrity as his owner. This is the same guy who showed up to East Oakland’s Murder Dubs at night to dap up none other than rap’s anti-hero, 22nd Jim. And he’s an All-NBA two-way legend. Not the alpha ego personality we’ve been desensitized to cherish as a celebrity-idolizing nation, but a maniac who could go out and just as capably deliver an alpha ego performance without the asshole-y part. No one could do that as singularly as Klay.

Any Warriors fan could go on about his summer in China, about his headband fashion choices, about his record-setting 37 point quarter against the Sacramento Kings, about his nonchalant interview on the morning news about scaffolding in New York City, about having a fake doppelganger who would sneak into NBA arenas dressed as a poor man’s Klay. Imagine that range of performances coming from Jordan, from Kobe, from AI, from Bird, from whomever except the five-time All-Star once known as “Toaster Klay” for signing a fan’s bread toaster. That’s not to say he was better than any of those other icons; it’s to say he was unlike them. Not overly cocky; not too tough; just not your typical jock. Until he had to go Super Saiyan, and then he would absolutely obliterate you and your city.

Of course, there’s the 2019 NBA Finals, against the Toronto Raptors. You already know what happens. Klay tears his ACL while going for a fastbreak yam. Klay clutches his left knee in immediate pain. The crowd chants Klay, Klay, Klay. Klay gets helped off the court by two assistants. Klay is gone. Klay then walks himself back from the locker room tunnel to the roar of the arena. Klay takes his free throws. Klay leaves the game, only to return next year and brutally rupture his achilles. Klay doesn’t play in an NBA game for the next 941 days.

A bizarre and heartbreaking sequence for any basketball fan to watch. The day Klay came back, with my wife and I went to a bar near our apartment around Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland. We both wore our Klay paraphernalia. Everyone watched as if it was the NBA Finals again. But it wasn’t. It was a 2022 regular season game against the post-LeBron James Cavaliers, and the Warriors were looking cooked.

But what I remember best is Game 6 Klay — the infernal demon who could scorch hardwood with little more than a calm flick of his wrist. This dimension was embodied against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. While facing Game 6 elimination against all hope, Klay came alive beyond the three-point barrier to break an NBA record (at the time) for the most treys in a playoff game with 11 bombs.

I watched the aforementioned Game 6 on a weekend getaway in Lake Tahoe with a squad of homies celebrating my wife’s birthday. During that three-night stretch of drinking and shenanigans, that specific playoff game elevated the rest of our already stellar trip. I don’t remember much from the summer of 2016. In fact, I don’t think I remember anything except that trip, and specifically how Klay broke the laws of physics on live television with his 41 point outburst. On the four-hour ride back to the East Bay, as our Ford sedan chugged along those mountainous roads, my wife and I relived Klay’s heroics and listened to the post-game breakdown on regional sports radio. My wife doesn’t even care about hoops like that. But that game, on her birthday no less, was a kind of glue that bonded our Bay Area souls in a way that I know would make even my worst enemies see life differently. (When we got back to Oakland, she bought a “Klay Area” crewneck from a bootlegger, which she still occasionally rocks to this day).

With his recent departure to the Dallas Mavericks, Klay will continue to receive a certain kind of love here in Northern California as a member of the best backcourt in NBA history. He earned it. Forget the ugliness of how Klay is leaving this franchise – a veteran player who wasn’t offered the kind of big money contract he wanted (and deserved) after his career-long tenure with Golden State. That’s an expected result in a sport that is ultimately a business. And it’s even more expected in a transient Bay Area region where people and trends, sadly, come and go by the month. In a Faustian sense, the Warriors are doubling down in a new direction, and in the process, Klay gets to chase another NBA chip elsewhere, on a loaded and competitive Dallas roster.

Don’t get me wrong. I can’t say I’ll ever forgive the Warriors for letting Klay go. But I’d also be lying if I said that the idea of him forever remaining in the Bay in tandem with Steph wasn’t a foolish impossibility. Shit, when’s the last time you’ve seen one player, let alone three, including Draymond Green, get drafted together and stay on the same team for as long as these three have?

I’m around the same age as Klay. I know what it feels like to do anything in your late thirties. Lord knows we’ve all experienced a beautiful sequence of harmony and success that we thought would never end — until it does. Many of us walk away from what we’ve been chasing at that age, especially when what we’re chasing involves keeping up with a 21-year-old freak athlete who is getting paid millions to put you inside a blender. It could’ve been simpler for Klay to hang it all up right then and there, to tip his hat and move on. We would have understood if he never played another game after his injuries. It even became vicariously painful to watch him devolve physically, while seeming unhappy and unlike himself.

In Klay’s words: “It was the darkest days of my life.”

Somehow, Klay instead managed a thunderous dunk in his returning game. Somehow, Klay averaged 20.4 ppg for the rest of that season. Somehow, Klay co-led the Dubs back to another unprecedented championship against the Boston Celtics that summer of 2022.

I might not convince you that Klay Thompson is the best two-way hooper ever. That’s cool. What I can say is that I’ve never watched another athlete like him. In my 17-year relationship with my wife, we’ve both never shared a favorite player to simultaneously root for like we have Klay, in any sport, at any time in our lifelong Bay Area history. Maybe that says everything you need to know about what he meant to our region. Not just as a transcendent basketballer, but as a seafaring spirit who taught us all how to ride the waves of ourselves a little bit easier, a little bit calmer, with a little bit more conviction.

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