OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Klay Thompson danced unabashedly in China after winning another NBA championship, and it got shared all over social media. He smoked a stogie on the rooftop, letting loose to reveal another side of himself.
“I didn’t plan for that video to go viral,” Thompson said matter-of-factly. “I was just having fun. I’ve always been myself and having fun while doing it and learning to enjoy every day, because it goes by so fast.”
Coming to that mindset, however, has been a process for the seventh-year Golden State guard, who acknowledges for so long he put extreme pressure on himself to be the best.
The quiet, more under-the-radar Warriors All-Star of the bunch, Thompson has provided a steadying hand early on for the reigning NBA champions who are favored to capture a third title in four years.
“I used to stress a lot more at the beginning of my career about my performance,” Thompson recalled. “Now, it’s not like I don’t stress, but I play more carefree and I’m more able, if I play as hard as I can I’m satisfied with the results. … I used to compare myself with all players and want to be the best so badly, but now it’s all about winning and having fun and realizing basketball is more of a team sport than anything.”
After a recent practice, Thompson dazzled right alongside a couple of visiting Harlem Globetrotters, spinning the ball on his finger, rolling it up and down his arms, off his knee and then a foot soccer-style before swishing a short jumper.
“I should’ve been a Globetrotter!” he yelled.
It’s a new look for this hang-loose, beach-loving Splash Brother.
The approach is working for the Warriors.
“He still carries the threat. You have to honor him,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s great at making the right play. Their whole team is. I think he’s trying to fit in with their whole buy-in that ball movement and passing is greater than any one man carrying the bulk of it.”
Still, his numbers are stellar. Thompson has had a fast start this season, which previously hasn’t been the case.
Thompson credits the familiarity with teammates and a comfort in coach Steve Kerr’s offense.
“He’s taken another step in his game. Just the experience that he’s had in his career, every year he’s gotten better and I think this year he’s shown how at the end of the season he carried it over to the beginning of this year,” backcourt mate Stephen Curry said. “Historically he hadn’t started seasons well but this year he’s locked in. He’s obviously shooting the ball well and playing great defense, but I think the biggest thing is his playmaking in situations where he’s drawing a crowd. He’s making great decisions setting guys up and just playing under control for the most part this entire season.”
Life off the court is great for Thompson, too, and that helps him be stress-free on it.
Look closely, and it’s easy to see he has come out of his shell.
On a day off last week, he golfed a popular public course close to Oracle Arena. Thompson signed someone’s toaster last spring, and it became a superstition.
In July, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Oakland Athletics game, then drove an IndyCar in September while serving as Grand Marshal of a series stop in Sonoma.
Thompson shares his training tricks on social media and posts photos with his bulldog, Rocco.
He recently donated $75,000 to relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastating Northern California wildfires, committing $1,000 per point for a three-game stretch during which he scored 69 points – but added to that total.
He is a spokesman for chocolate milk and an obscure – in the U.S. anyway – Chinese shoe company. He signed an $80 million, 10-year extension to wear the sneakers.
“Life’s good,” Thompson said. “I never thought I’d get paid millions of dollars to wear shoes and apparel. I’m very proud to be a part of Anta. … It’s so cool that I’m big in China. I never thought I’d be on billboards and posters in China.”
Thompson has found a balance during the offseason to stay sharp, mixing up his workouts with outdoor activities he enjoys.
“It took years for me to figure out how to prepare the best I can for the season. I finally learned in my sixth year,” he said. “You’ve got to stay in shape almost year-round because as you get older it’s harder to get back into shape. It’s easier to get out of shape than it is to get back into shape. I do other things besides basketball to stay in shape in the offseason. I think that just keeps my mind fresh.”
He hopes to do a formal swim from Alcatraz, or even a triathlon. He swims in the ocean – “my favorite place in the world” – whenever he can. Freestyle is his strength, butterfly not so much. He plays hours of beach volleyball or just throws the football around and runs routes through the sand.
At work, he has been a model of consistency. Thompson is determined to be a better passer, creating for teammates whenever possible. He also usually guards the opponent’s top perimeter scorer.
Thompson is off to his best shooting season ever, with career highs of 49.4 percent shooting from the field and 45.6 percent on 3-pointers.
“I think his playmaking has been the best it’s been in his career,” Kerr said. “He’s really doing a good job of putting the ball on the floor and moving it on, drive and kick game, finding the centers in the pocket for little floaters. … It’s been his best passing season so far.”
Thompson used to get teased for his lack of assists, and it remains a running joke.
“I got thick skin,” Thompson quipped, “honestly I don’t really care.”
That carefree approach has taken time, and the Warriors are better for it.