NBA Draft

Klay Thompson’s splashy comeback great for Warriors, bad for rest of NBA

That’s right, Klay Thompson was back. After a surgery on each leg and 941 days on the shelf, the Warriors’ beloved shooting guard returned to action in a 96-82 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

When Thompson sprinted onto the court at exactly 4:40 p.m. for his early pregame warm-up routine, nearly an hour before tip-off, he was instantly reunited with his Splash Brother, Stephen Curry, who was already on the court.

The two worked separately, Curry launching jumpers from the midcourt logo while Thompson was starting his routine with baseline jumpers. Seemingly, just another day at the office for the greatest-shooting guard tandem in NBA history.

But it was momentous for the Warriors, and chilling for the rest of the league. For all the hoopla and buildup and fan love that would mark the evening, this little pregame reunion was the most dramatic. After more than 2½ years, Curry was no longer a Splash Orphan.

The drama and excitement would soon ratchet up. Thompson was the last Warrior introduced with the starting lineups, and got a warm ovation. His teammates seemed extra energized. They’ve been practicing and scrimmaging with Thompson in recent weeks, but having him back for the real thing brought new zest to a team that already leads the league in enthusiasm and pure zoom.

In pregame warm-ups, every Warrior rocked a Thompson No. 11 jersey.

The welcome home, from fans and teammates, was a long time coming. Thompson hasn’t played ball since the NBA Finals three seasons ago, when he tore the ACL in his left knee. Then, just before training camp last season ago, Thompson’s right Achilles tendon snapped during a pickup game.

To the Warriors and their fans, Thompson’s wandering in the rehab wilderness took on epic Homeric tones. Klay became Ulysses with a jump shot. Homer’s Ulysses took 10 years to return to Ithaca from the Trojan Wars, and Thompson’s rehab journey seemed like 10 years.

And while the folks of Ithaca were happy to see their king return, nobody back then was paying 14,000 drachma (or whatever) to see it, while top tickets at Chase for Thompson’s return were going for $14,000.

Liz Sonsams holds her Klay Thompson signage before Klay Thompson (11) warms up before the Golden State Warriors played the Cleveland Cavaliers at Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, January 9, 2022. Thompson returns to the court for the first time after injuries sidelined him for more than 900 days.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

Thompson’s long absence only intensified the love he receives from the fans. He’s an elite performer, sure, a legit NBA superstar, but he is also everybody’s next-door neighbor.

In a league where everyone’s got enemies and grudges and glares, nobody doesn’t like Klay Thompson. A guy who works courtside security for the Warriors was chatting with Thompson one day while Klay was shooting on the court by himself. The guy complimented Thompson on his shoes.

“What size?” Thompson asked, nodding to the man’s feet.

“Nine and a half.”

A couple days later, a ballboy delivered a pair of new Thompson-model sneakers to the security guard.

During his long rehab, Thompson was a presence in the Bay Area, providing social-media postcards from his new boat, or while kayaking, or on walks with Rocco, his dog. One half-expected to see Thompson Instagram himself surfing Mavericks.

It all fed into the anticipation for Thompson’s return. After two seasons of scuffling, the Warriors this season have been doing great without Thompson, going into Sunday’s game with the second-best record in the league, 29-9.

But the consensus of experts and fans alike is that the Warriors need Thompson to play with a semblance of his former greatness for the Warriors to return to glory.

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