Why Warriors’ Klay Thompson optimistic about future after experiencing ‘worst year of my life’

The hurt showed in Klay Thompson’s stoic tone and body language. Let the Golden State Warriors star sum up what life has been like in the past year both for himself and many others around the world.

“It was probably the worst year of my life,” Thompson said Sunday.

Thompson’s reasoning points both to universal and personal challenges. Like many in the NBA world, Thompson has struggled processing the passing of former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash. “I still think about Kobe every single day,” Thompson said. And every single day, Thompson has also tried to cope with dealing with the recent passing of his grandmother and season-ending injuries to his left knee and his right Achilles tendon in consecutive seasons.

“It’s way harder than any basketball game I’ve ever had to play and way harder than any conditioning drill in practice,” Thompson said. “The mental toll is not very fun. You always guess if you were going to be the same player you once were. So you have those natural thoughts. But you can’t let those overtake you. You have to realize this is not unique just to me. So many athletes have been through this.”

Klay Thompson on “probably the worst year of my life”

–Pandemic
–ACL rehab
–Kobe
–Social justice “reckoning”
–Achilles tear
–Lost his grandmother pic.twitter.com/jHvlBdfPWi

Hence, Thompson has talked with current and former NBA players that returned from Achilles injuries, while studying both the success stories and the challenges that awaited him. He spoke with former Atlanta Hawks forward Dominique Wilkins, who is the only player in NBA history whose statistics improved following his Achilles injury. He talked with Hall-of-Fame forward Grant Hill, who overcame a series of ankle injuries during the prime of his career by willingly evolving from an established All-Star to a dependable role player through 18 seasons. He consulted with inspirational speaker Tony Robbins, whom Thompson said “inspired me a lot to never lose my soul and always be myself.”

Thompson remains mindful  that he could lose some explosiveness and may need to play on a minutes restriction whenever he returns. And yet, the 31-year-old Thompson still held optimism he “can be effective until my late 30’s” and become the same player that has won three NBA titles, landed three All-Star appearances and became one of the league’s best shooters.

“I plan on being the All-NBA player I was. I’m not settling for anything less,” Thompson said. “I’m too competitive to just take a relegated role. That’s not me. I’m too fiery to come out there and just give it 13 [points] a game on 20 minutes. I can’t wait to get out there. I have a lot of pent up energy. I have a lot of pent up aggression. I want to play basketball. When it happens, it will be a joyous day for not only me, but for everybody.”

Can that joyous day take place on opening night?

“Absolutely,” Thompson said. “Could be a few weeks after, maybe a month after. But it's definitely going to be geared toward the beginning of the season.”

Klay says he’s eager to play with James Wiseman and chase another trophy next season ? pic.twitter.com/trbywQgGmK

Thompson spoke on Sunday about his injury, his rehab and the uncertain future ahead for the first time since injuring his right Achilles tendon on Nov. 18. That coincided with the day of the NBA Draft and the Warriors’ ultimately selecting center James Wiseman with their No. 2 pick.  Thompson admitted, “it’s something I don’t really like to revisit too much because it was very painful.” But reliving that painful memory seems unavoidable. He has spent every day rehabbing since then.

In what he called “a series of unfortunate events,” Thompson injured his right Achilles during a pick-up basketball game with other NBA players in Los Angeles after pulling up for a jumper off one dribble. Thompson said he had fully healed the ACL in his left knee that he injured in a decisive Game 6 loss in the 2019 NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors. He had spent the summer and fall completing two-a-day workouts that entailed weight-lifting and shooting sessions. And Thompson added he had performed that move “100 times a day.”

This time, however, Thompson fell and likened to feeling to “someone [kicking] you in the back of your heel as hard as they could.” The Warriors, including Thompson, struggled processing these injuries partly because he had remained durable during his first eight NBA seasons. He had played in 615 out of a possible 640 regular-season games and never missed a playoff game his first seven years.

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“It was just a tough day. Basketball for me has been my life,” Thompson said. “To being without it for two years makes me appreciate the iron man career I had up until this point. I have to get back to that.”

Klay Thompson has stayed close to his Warriors teammates even as he continues to recover from an Achilles injury that will sideline him for the season (Photo: Kelley L. Cox, USA TODAY Sports)

Recently, Thompson had his walking boot removed and received medical clearance for various drills, including walking, lifting weights, calf raises, mobility and balance exercises as well as running on a weight-bearing treadmill underwater. Though Thompson cannot yet fully run, he said performing the other drills “has been good for my psyche.” So has reading books, watching movies and playing chess, three hobbies he has done since he can no longer golf, hike or bike.

During these tough times, Thompson has tried to cherish the little things.

He thanked a local college basketball coach that wrote him a letter wishing him well on his recovery and sharing how the Warriors’ championship teams inspired him. He addressed reporters by their first name and offered warm greetings. And he has relished having a more active behind-the-scenes role with the team after spending most of his time last year rehabbing his knee. After observing the Warriors closely in practice and in games this season, Thompson expressed optimism

Warriors will become a playoff threat and that Wiseman will develop into a perennial All-Star.

“It’s helped me tremendously. I’m at the point in my career where I can lend my voice and I know guys appreciate that,” Thompson said. “Even just being there on the road shows that I’m committed, I know that goes a long way as well. But it’s nice when you get to grind with your teammates every day. You still feel like you’re a part of it. Its’ been a weird two years for me. I genuinely love the game so much. It’s been hard to find a lot of happiness about it. But it’s good to come back. It’s going to make me appreciate what I do that much more.”

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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