When the NBA unveiled its top 75 players of all time to commemorate its 75th anniversary, fans welcomed it with a mixture of joy and rage. The same goes for the players. Those who were part of it were humbled and sent their gratitude to the voters. Those who were not selected, like Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, made it known that it was a huge mistake.
Turning frustration to motivation
Via Instagram Stories, Thompson wrote, "Maybe I'm just naive in my ability to play basketball, but in my head, I'm top 75 all-time." His Warriors teammates hopped into the fray, trolling Thompson with a no. 77 jersey in his locker room to signify that he’s the 77th best player of all time. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr heard of the gag and instead of scolding his players, he took everything in stride. For him, Thompson’s exclusion from the list could actually benefit them once he returns from injury.
"You have to have humor with everything and his teammates obviously got that done to have a laugh with him," Kerr said via NBC Sports. "But I think all these guys, they are so competitive by nature. They wouldn't have made it this far if they weren't really competitive and at some point, guys latch onto things to drive them."
Klay's accomplished pretty much everything. He's a multi-time champion, a multi-time All-Star, one of the great 3-point shooters ever. He's already competitive but if that's what it takes to make him more competitive, then we'll take it.
Steve Kerr, NBC Sports
Kerr’s statement isn’t just a cliche to describe athletes’ inherent competitive nature. This isn’t just your usual case of a player turning the negative emotions as fuel to his fire. Kerr chose his words carefully. He wasn’t just saying what Warriors fans wanted to hear. Kerr was stating the facts as Thompson has a robust history of coming back strong after a dark period.
Klay's comeback campaign
In the 2018-19 NBA season, Thompson began his campaign cold, shooting just 44-of-111 (39.6 percent) in the first seven games from the field and a horrendous 5/36 (13.8 percent) from deep. He was missing wide-open shots and was visibly frustrated with every miss. Critics saw this as a chance to lambast Thompson, saying that he needs to recalibrate his shooting form.
But his teammates knew that time will come when Thompson will rise up from his slump and put on a show. And this is exactly what he did. After seven games of struggling, Thompson dropped the bomb with 52 points and drained 14 3-pointers — the all-time record for most 3-pointers in a game.
This performance, as coaches would say, was just one game. This is not to discount Thompson’s superhuman feat, but a reminder that the key to greatness is a string of good performances. Thompson seems to have understood this heart. A broad look at his numbers following his 52-point game reveals that his 3-point percentage went up every month. From shooting 31.3 percent in October, he shot 36.3 percent in November, 33.7 percent in December, 47.5 percent in January, 46.7 percent in February, 45.5 percent in March, 32.2 percent (across five games) in April.
In the middle of his steady improvement, reporters kept on nagging Thompson for his supposed slump. The three-time NBA champion kept his poise and answered all their questions. Yet he was visibly irritated during his media session as all questions revolved around his poor shooting.
“What is someone going to tell me about my jump shot that I can’t fix at this point," Klay Thompson said in December 2018 via Anthony Slater of The Athletic. "Unless it’s Reggie Miller or Ray Allen? I don’t know who I’m supposed to listen to. Larry Bird? Ask Steve Kerr. I’ll listen to Steve. Steve shot 45 percent. But other than that, it’s like I’ve done this job for a long enough time I know what I need to do.”
The Warriors have yet to announce Thompson’s first game back after missing two full seasons. His return will be something to behold, though we have to temper our expectations. There’s a good chance he won’t drop 50 right off the bat though there’s always that possibility. Whatever the case may be, we know that not seeing his name in that controversial list of 76 players will be on his mind all season long.