Klay Thompson Returns to the Warriors

Which is one of the reasons his absence was such a bummer. How long was Thompson gone? The N.B.A. wrapped up a pandemic-stricken season at Disney World. The Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks won championships. The Warriors moved into a new arena, then rebuilt their roster after plunging to the depths of the league standings.

Thompson, meantime, played chess and bought a 37-foot fishing boat. He signed a five-year contract extension worth about $190 million, determined to one day make good on Golden State’s investment. He made cameos with NBC Bay Area’s broadcast crew, offering game analysis and updates on his progress.

“Just a little bored at times,” he said during a game last season.

Mostly, though, he rehabbed. And rehabbed. And rehabbed some more, fighting the twin demons of self-doubt and impatience. In late November, after Golden State won another game without him, he draped a towel over his head as the arena emptied out, and remained on the bench by himself for about a half-hour. By then, the road back had been too long and too hard. His return was close, but not close enough.

“Nobody could possibly know what he went through,” Kerr said before Sunday’s game.

Yet Thompson’s familiar hunger was always there, lurking behind all those squats and sprints, and when he was omitted from the league’s 75th anniversary team this season, he expressed his dissatisfaction before donning a No. 77 jersey for subsequent workouts. (A total of 76 players were selected for the team.)

At a news conference in November, Thompson alluded to the challenges he had faced in recovering from his injuries, describing many of the obstacles as more mental than physical, though he stopped short of sharing specifics.

“I try not to revisit those times,” he said, adding: “I’m lucky I play in the era I do because technology and science have allowed athletes to come back better than ever.”

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