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The Klay Experience: behind-the-scenes from Warriors practice at Chase Center
Plus notes & quotes from his Q&A
Golden State Warriors Public Relations Director Brett Winkler strolled into the beatwriters’ workroom at Chase Center late this morning to touch base with all of us credentialed media as we waited for practice to end. With the team rolling along at a 15-2 clip, fans have been eager to get updates on Klay Thompson and James Wiseman. After each game, I usually go live on YouTube with a Q&A and those two are easily the most-asked-about.
Seated in a chair, NBC Sports Bay Area sideline reporter Kerith Burke then asked Winkler, “Is there any chance we can get Klay?”
“Yeah, that’s who we were thinking about having at the podium today,” Winkler replied.
Still seated, Burke shot two triumphant fists in the air a la Michael Jordan after winning the 1992 title:
And so began “The Klay Experience” today at Warriors practice, a most glorious day, indeed. Not too long after that, we were led into the Oracle Performance Center, the practice facility that’s essentially the basement of the arena.
I noticed that Stephen Curry’s corner was vacant, but Klay was at the adjacent end, near the training room and on the far side from our back entrance to the gym. Unfortunately there was no sign of Wiseman. Andrew Wiggins was doing his workout on the near left court…
…and Gary Payton II, Otto Porter and Nemanja Bjelica — a trio I’ve not seen work together before — were in some kind of three-point shooting contest on the right near court:
Klay wore his now-infamous No. 77 practice jersey. His workout included a couple of sprints down the full court and back:
Also, I immediately went live on YouTube…
…as well as separately on Instagram, which I later archived to YouTube as well (portrait mode):
I knew that Steve Kerr would be asked about Klay and Wiseman, so I kept an eye on when reporters would head to the interview room for that. Luckily, I was standing near Monte Poole who was thinking the same thing. “Steve is still talking to Dejan (Milojevic, Warriors assistant and development coach for Wiseman), so he might head up after that,” Monte told me.
Sure enough, moments later Poole noticed Kerr walking into the training room with Senior VP of Communications Raymond Ridder, so Monte and fellow NBC Sports Bay Area reporter Kendra Andrews headed back out of the gym, as did the other reporters. I continued filming Payton, Porter and Bjelica for a few more seconds, which is why the video for their workout was under two minutes in comparison to up to three minutes for a typical workout video upload to our YouTube channel. Then I high-tailed it to Kerr’s media availability.
Unfortunately, the Bill King Interview Room is on the other side of the arena. So I had to weave my way past a camera crew doing some sort of commercial with a very tall actor who I’m not familiar with, breaking a sweat and hurrying down the corridors.
I was wearing my Chrome laptop bag, which has an innovative metal “seat belt” contraption as a strap — Chrome is known for being designed specifically for bicycle couriers. It makes a lot of noise when you try to run with it on.
As I approached the Bill King room, Kerr and Ridder stood outside talking about something and got distracted by my noisiness as I hauled down the tunnel.
I waved, “Hey, Steve!” as I shuffled past them and Kerr gave me a little tap on the back, which was really, really cool when you think about it, because it basically meant he respected my hustle.
Their delay, as it turns out, was due to Raymond’s suggestion that Steve clarify his answer to San Jose Mercury reporter Evan Webeck’s question during the pregame interview of the previous game against the Toronto Raptors. There was some confusion about the timeline of Klay’s return and the fact that he was already cleared for full practice and scrimmages. A report by The Athletic’s Anthony Slater and Shams Charania the day before the Raptors game stated that sources told them Klay would probably be back by the week leading up to Christmas.
So after the briefing with Ridder that I just witnessed, Kerr sat down and started off the Q&A by making clear he wasn’t aware of such a timeline, not to be confused with Klay being fully cleared to practice — Steve had told us that in Charlotte after the first practice on the recent road trip, but there might have been some misinterpretation on the pregame Raptors Zoom call for reporters who did not travel to Charlotte.
Here’s the whole interview from Kerr today. That first part may have been left out as I scrambled to sit down and got my two iPhone cameras ready to go:
Kerr gave us updates on both Thompson and Wiseman. Steve gave us an interesting way to benchmark Klay’s forthcoming gradual return: just think if he’d spent the last two years not playing basketball at all, let alone suffering ACL and Achilles tears. How gradual would the return be had Klay just retired from basketball these last two years? Talk about tempering expectations!
As far as Wiseman, Kerr said a meniscus injury doesn’t have as “linear” a recovery process as does, say, an ACL. Kerr said he just lets head trainer Rick Celebrini tell him when Wiseman will be ready. It’s literally up to Celebrini. Meanwhile, Steve has a team to coach and game-to-game opponents to worry about. However, Kerr did say he checks in with Wiseman occasionally, on the mental aspects of returning from injury.
The interview ended up being 19 minutes long. That meant an extended processing and upload time for YouTube, but luckily Kevon Looney strolled in for the next interview. His videos obviously aren’t as popular on our channel, so there was no need to go live with him, and that allowed me the freedom to wait for the Kerr interview to process and upload, all while Looney was still talking. One of the bigger takeaways from Kevon’s Q&A was, as a veteran of injury rehabilitation processes, to trust your body and not be scared of re-injury:
As Looney left the podium, Ridder joked, “Alright, Klay should be ready in about twenty-two minutes.”
KRON-TV’s Jason Dumas would later set the over-under at 14 minutes, which I thought was a fair line. Klay came in well under that, to everyone’s pleasant surprise.
He wore his No. 1 Washington State Cougars practice jersey and a headband. The following is a transcription of the entire interview, which also lasted over 19 minutes:
On the Warriors’ current success: “15-2 is pretty ridiculous, I don’t think any of the pundits saw this coming…In wholeheartedly believe in these guys…it’s very inspiring.”
How are you feeling during scrimmages? “Oh man, it’s so exciting just to be running up and down the court…truly a blessing…the boring stuff is behind me…I just gotta be patient because I can be an over-eager person…it’s hard to put into words how grateful I am to be playing basketball again.”
How much do you feel like yourself, movement-wise: “I’m feel great…the hardest part is simulating a game and that conditioning that goes with being a great NBA player…takes time.”
Having a say in readiness or a timeline? “I don’t, Kerith, it’s really hard to say because it’s definitely a ‘feel’ thing…hopefully in the first trimester. That’s a third, right?…” 😂
Indicators he’ll be in game shape: “Mmm, well, right now we’re playing like four-minute games, so by next week five-minute quarters, the week after that, six, seven. And hopefully by the end of the month we’ll play 12-minute quarters and that’s when I’m approaching game play is around in a month’s time, maybe a few weeks after, I’m not sure. But each week is increasingly that level of volume. It’s not rocket science so for me it’s just ‘feel’ thing knowing I’ll come back to a minutes restriction for awhile. I don’t want to come back and be a shell of myself. I want to come back like I was. The last time I was playing, I was one of the best players in the world.”
Can you tell what your presence does to everyone else around you in practices? “It just feels normal again. Just being out there with Steph and Dray, Andre, Loon. We have such a great history together. With guys like Andrew and Jordan, Juan, Damion. Been here for a couple years now. They have a grasp of the offense and defense so I think it will be pretty seamless when I come back.”
Any surprises with teammates? “…I see why he was pick seventh…all the tools…for me I anticipate coming back with not as much bounce…luckily for me, my game isn’t predicated off of jumping twelve feet high. If I just get a few dunks every other game, a dunk or two every other game, that’s pretty consistent with what I was doing (smiles). My game is based off skill so I know I can come back back and be really good.” [What was he smiling at? Was he picturing Zaza Pachulia calling BS on the number of dunks every other game? 🤔]
What do you tell yourself to stay patient? “…I was a numbers guy before, I always wanted to shoot a certain percentage or average a certain amount of points. But now coming back after two tough injuries I kinda scratched that. I just have an open canvas of what’s gonna happen. I just want to be efficient. I don’t care what my numbers are, as long as I’m shooting and playing efficiently. I know with time, whether it’s toward the end this year, come playoff time or next year, I know my numbers will be great again. Two years of not playing in an NBA game, you gotta taper down big expectations of scoring 37 in a quarter or fourteen threes in a game. I plan on doing that again but who know when…”
How’s playing defense? “…playing against guys like Leandro Barbosa has really prepared me because he’s still so quick…I don’t anticipate being a slouch on that end…”
Where’s your headspace compared to six months ago or two years ago? “I try not to revisit those times because they were just really hard…for me, six months ago I was looking forward to just running…not really elevating yet, still building up my calf strength…now I’m still doing the calf stuff but I’m sprinting, I’m jumping, I’m a full go. It’s incredible. I give myself credit because it takes mental fortitude to not only go through one rehab but two strenuous ones back-to-back…”
Have you thought of the gameday look yet? “You see it. It’s on my Instagram. Spent so much time in solitude training, kinda wanna try new things…”
On Jordan Poole: “…came in as a rookie who had a crazy amount of energy, had a lot of sauce to his game and just needed to harness it a little bit…he’s looking like he should have been a Lottery pick…incredible offensive player. Defense is coming along…he reminds me of myself…the way he reacts emotionally to missing shots or having a bad game…that means a guy really cares about his craft…he would have an off shooting night his rookie and he would put up hundreds of shots after the game and that just shows you he wants to be great…he’s an incredible, incredible player.”
Have you had sequences in scrimmages where he felt good? “Yeah. Oh yeah. Every cut, every pass, every shot you take…I’m just grateful just to compete. There’s not many other spaces in my life where I can compete at this level…”
Any detonation-type moments? “(Pauses) Yeah, but — I mean, yeah, you could say that. Hopefully I do that when I come back first game, that’ll be nice.”
Do you want to be an inspiration or history-maker considering the back-to-back rehabs? “Yeah. That would be cool, but I just look at it as part of the job…I’m lucky I play in the era I do because technology and science have allowed athletes to come back better than ever. I’m just lucky to be around the training I have, the staff, the coaches. The science of sports now is pretty amazing.”
How hard was it? “It was more mentally hard than it was physically. I could be in the gym all day but having to sit there and watch, it’s not fun especially for anyone that likes to compete, likes to win.”
What’s it like for you to see the Warriors get back to the level? “…we are now a type of team where it’s championship or bust and that’s a really cool position to be in. Not a lot of players get to experience that.”
What are the things you’re telling Wiseman about, being patient? “Yeah, well, I mean, gave him a book to read today. ‘I’m Black, Rich And Famous’ by Dr. Tom Boyd. About the NBA, hip-hop culture and how it globalized the sport. It’s such a good read, such an empowering read and James is such a good listener. I just want to help further his education because guys are so talented they just get to skip university now and they gotta realize you still gotta grow as a person, and exercising your mind is just as important as your body. I try to tell him that…future is so bright for him…we haven’t had a center like him in a long time who can run the floor and space it vertically…”
Tom Boyd: “I think he’s a professor at USC…”
Monte Poole confirms Boyd is a professor at USC and remarks he didn’t know people at WSU read Pac-12 rivals’ books: “…I used to be bitter at USC and UCLA but being a Coug is a part of my story…it gave me fire back then like, ‘ah, you didn’t recruit me’…”
Talking to Wiseman: “We spent all summer together and we are locker mates right by each other…I was in school when I was his age so I just try to tell him it will go by like this (snaps fingers). He is the future of our franchise as well as JK and Moses and one day we’ll hand them the keys and just enjoy being a Warrior because we play in a great place, San Francisco and having the fan base we do. Fans in Oakland and the South Bay and the north, especially when it wasn’t always like this…”
Win now vs future: “We all trust in our front office…the plan is coming together so beautifully…give our front office and coaching staff for being such forward thinkers and combining the veteran presence we have with the youthfulness…”
Championship or bust this year? “Oh yeah. 15-2! That’s a great indicator. And our defense. I think it’s Top Three in the league as well as our offense. And I’m not even out there yet (slams hand on table). Think about that. Really think about that. I’m motivated than ever as well. And I want a championship so bad. More than anything.”
Haters and doubters part of your deal? “Yeah. No question, no question. I wanted to be on that Top — I wanted some recognition. I didn’t get it, and that’s fine. You know how to get recognition? Go win. So I just want to go win again, I want to win a fourth ring…I feel like I have a lot of pent up energy to go out there and prove — not to anybody else but to myself — I’m still one of the best. We’ve got our core. We have a Finals MVP, two-time MVP, DPOY, champions. We got the core. We got the youth. We got the role players who are showing why we went after them and I just really want to win a championship and I want to just — duh! That’s it.”
A peek at scrimmages with Zaza and Barbosa: “…We got such great history together. Leandro, he moves like he can still play. Zaza is just a smart player. He might be a little slower than he was but he can still set a mean screen and throw a great pass. Playing with Moses and JK and Juan and all these other guys, who are young and lively bodies is preparing me well. It’s the first time I’ve played with them on Monday and that was just a milestone to play wit my teammates. You know, I don’t fear getting hurt again because the last two times I did get hurt, it was just such a freak accident, you could say. I hate to use the phrase ‘can’t wait’ because I love to be present in my life but I cannot wait to play in front of our fans again. I really, really enjoy being a Warrior.”
Is this year’s team more conducive to your game? “That’s a great observation. I would agree…we’ve had some really great years, winning 73 games, going back-to-back, so it’s tough to say…it makes the transition coming back (inaudible) so easy. We all know I’m not an iso player or a guy who’s just gonna go out and handle the ball all night. I use my teammates to get open, I cut off Draymond and Loon, I screen for Steph…just from an observing standpoint it’s so fun to watch. On the bench, it’s beautiful basketball.”
As Ridder ended the interview and Klay walked off the stage, Slater joked if we’d get him every day from now on (which was basically also Slater’s way of telling Klay that that was an extremely fun, quotable Q&A, which you can see above that it was).
“Catch me live behind the helm,” Klay quipped, a reference to his Instagram Lives as captain of his boat.