That's how long it had been since we'd seen Klay Thompson. Think about just how long that is. His last game was in the NBA Finals in 2019 against the Lebron James led Cavaliers. Pre-pandemic. Pre NBA Bubble. Seems like a decade ago to be fair.
That's a long time to be robbed of one of the best and most fun players in the league. And clearly Klay had been robbed of that support from Warriors fans that have backed him through the injuries.
“It was worth every single day of being away,” Thompson said of the roar of the crowd when his named was announced in the starting lineup. “It was a special moment. I will never forget. I’m not going to say it was the equivalent to winning a championship. But, man, it was pretty freaking close.”
The grueling rebuilding of ligaments. The dark times of helplessness. The annoying doubts when it would be a bad day. The impatience, eating up the good days and the positive vibes. The constant questions tearing at the soul.
Thompson dealt with all of it. The initial ACL tear in his knee during the 2019 NBA Finals, that forced him to miss the entire, interrupted due to Covid, 2020 season. Then just as he was preparing to come back in 2021, the achilles tear in his right leg. Forcing him to miss the entire 2021 season, then half of this season. Until last night. That's a long and painful road to recovery. Essentially 3 years of doing physical therapy and rehab.
It's crazy to think, Klay's layoff was longer than Michael Jordan's baseball career.
He scored 17 points, in his team's win against those Cavaliers, a much different version than the last time Klay was on the floor. But the biggest moment came when Klay decided to take it on his own and dunk it down in the face of 2 Cavs, which got the chase center rocking on "Klay Day."
That moment, and the elation that came with it from the more than 20,000 fans in attendance, demonstrated the importance of Klay to this team and to this franchise. Thompson received a coronation for his troubles, an outpouring of reverence strong enough to etch this night into the young history of this new arena in San Francisco.
“He’s been here since the beginning,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s homegrown. He’s won three championships. He’s provided some of the biggest thrills for these fans over the last decade they’ve ever experienced. And he sort of feels like one of them."
Thompson, already a legend in these parts, growing into a cult figure in his time away from the court. His aura of freedom. The comfort he seemed to feel in his own skin. The simplicity with which he approached his celebrity life. It all made Thompson aspirational. People want to be like Klay Thompson, and that's why the reception on his comeback was so raucous, and so genuine.
"Everybody connects with him because he’s just authentic," Kerr said. "He’s just Klay, and I think everybody appreciates that. They see him with his dog or on his boat. You know, Klay is Klay. And everybody loves that.”
“Bay Area people are very loyal,” Klay Thompson said after the game. “They’re loyal to their players. They’re loyal to their teams. And luckily for me, I’ve only been in one uniform my whole career. That’s so rare in pro sports, and the Warrior fans feel that. And I love them for it. We’ve been through the highest of highs and lowest lows, whether it’s losing Game 7 (of the NBA Finals in 2016) of a record-setting season or winning three championships. We’ve done everything together, whether that’s celebrate or hurt from the losses. So they feel for me and I feel for them.”
That die-hard connection between player and fan base, made Klay's hard work, dedication and return, all the more special.