On the night he snapped for 37 points in one quarter against the Sacramento Kings, Klay Thompson didn’t look like himself. He was smiling, jumping up and down, screaming at times on his way to a pristine 13-13 from the floor and 9-9 from behind the arc in the third quarter. The stone-faced, expressionless look he usually exudes on-court had evaporated as he charged toward the NBA record he set that night. He was in the moment and loving it. Some of the evening is still a blur for Thompson, who racked up 52 in all. What he recalls vividly are the Warriors fans on their feet each time he touched the ball and his teammates unwillingness to shoot. “I have to give so much credit to my teammates because they didn’t want to shoot the ball until I missed,” Thompson says. “I couldn’t believe I hit 13 shots in a row—that’s hard to do in practice, let alone a game. I didn’t have to take too many dribbles in that sequence—I was able to get to my spots. And the shots I was putting up were all in rhythm. It looked like it came in good flow. It was a crazy night, man. It’s hard to even put it in words.”
When he has gone back and watched film of that night, Thompson has come away dreaming for more. “For me it’s very motivating—man, I can put up 37 in a quarter?” Thompson says. “I know I have a lot of untapped potential after seeing that. I know that if I can do that I can really become a great player. I don’t know if I can ever do it again. I don’t want to put a limit on myself. It was a special night for me because I never thought in my lifetime I would hold an NBA record.”
Not many people who watched Thompson playing ball while growing up in Orange County, CA, thought he would either.
Standing before the young students of Kipp Charter School in Oakland, Thompson asks about their dislikes. Math is at the top of the list and Thompson understands. Kipp is a national network of free open enrollment college preparatory public schools that are dedicated to serving students in underserved communities for success in college and in life. Their mission is very important to Klay, who believes he was extremely fortunate to grow up with full family support and a top-notch education. His visit to the program in September included a personal donation of $25,000 to support the cause and the Larry O’Brien trophy as a very nice conversation piece.
“I tell kids that it’s OK to have the NBA in the back of your head as a dream but don’t think you’re going to make it tomorrow,” Thompson explains. “I encourage them to play other sports. I played basketball, baseball and football growing up and I learned so much from each sport. I think it can help you become more cerebral. You’re not going to know what your real true love is until you’re older. I encourage them to try things.”
Klay also likes to remind kids about the rough days he has at work.
“It’s not that much different than school—we all have bad days,” he says. “It took me a long time to become a good player in this League, and I learned that you’re going to have your ups and downs. It’s about how you respond and that’s what I also stress to them.”
As a teen, Klay was obsessed with the game of chess, his true love. Some kids are surprised to hear that. “When I was in school my biggest regret was not being involved more in chess,” Klay says. “I love chess—it’s my favorite thing to play on the planet. I encourage all kids to join the chess club or to play an instrument especially if the school is going to fund it. Try new things as much as possible because you never know what you may fall into and fall in love with.”
Reflecting back on his days in high school, Klay says the expectations of being an athlete may have hindered his passion in chess. “In high school it might not be the cool thing to join a band or the chess club; especially as an athlete, you’re supposed to be this macho big man on campus type of guy that shouldn’t be doing those things,” Klay says. “Looking back on it, I wish I would have done more of that. I play chess with [Andre] Iguodala all the time on the plane. I tell kids to never be ashamed about what your passions are or what another kid may say to you because you care about something.”
While he was in high school, Washington State University recruited Klay the hardest. Leading up to that point, Thompson exceled in various sports, as a dual-threat QB on the gridiron and a strong-armed pitcher on the diamond. The son of former NBA great Mychal Thompson and former college volleyball standout Julie Thompson, college scouts knew Klay had incredible pedigree and could shoot. As his game and body continued to develop at a rapid pace late in high school, Klay chose WSU for college. Looking back, it was the perfect place for his development.
“Pullman really grew on me—I was able to focus on my game up there and I was coming from L.A. where there’s not really a college town,” Thompson says. “Pullman is exclusively a college town. I was able to have the true college experience and that was a great time for me.”
His trajectory since declaring for the Draft as a junior and being selected by the Warriors in the Lottery has been stunning. As a rookie, he averaged 12.5 ppg and last year in his fourth season, he made his first All-Star team, finished the year with a 21.7 ppg average and was among the top three-point shooters in the League with 239 triples for a .439 percentage. He has also flourished as a defender, locking up guys with a serious commitment to that side of the ball. “I hate getting scored on,” Thompson says. “You’re going to get scored on in this League playing against the best players in the world. It’s just a feeling that I hate. It’s a feeling I always had as a kid. As a competitor, it doesn’t sit well with me.”
Thompson was a critical piece of the Dubs’ run and his emergence as a superstar is clear. But where do we go from here? “We have great competitors on this team and we’re not going to be complacent,” he says. “I don’t want to settle with just being good and having a couple good years and winning one Championship. We’re too competitive to let that happen. I feel like there is something special brewing with this team here. We’re not satisfied with just doing it once—we know we really have a chance at putting together something special because we have such a young team and great mix of veteran players as well.”
Individual and team success have helped establish some new off-court opportunities for Thompson. He has partnered with Stance Socks as the face of their NBA line, a brand he loves. “I’m so excited to be with Stance—we both have a mutual respect for one another,” Thompson says. “I’ve never seen socks this unique with so many different designs. I especially love all the throwback socks with all the old NBA legends on them, those are my favorite. I just got this Pistol Pete pair that are really sweet.”
The Stance headquarters in San Clemente are near where Klay grew up and he has spent considerable time there learning about the company. “I have no idea about designing, but it’s something I would love to learn about,” Klay says. “I’m going to learn and give my input.”
From a fashion standpoint, Thompson describes his style as classic and clean. “I don’t pull off anything too flashy, I don’t think that’s my personality,” he says. “As long as it’s crisp and looks fresh, I like it. I don’t really wear any crazy colors. I love black jeans and black shoes—that’s always my go-to.”
Thompson has also gone global, partnering with Chinese footwear company ANTA, who has added him to Team Priceless and intends to market the sharpshooter exclusively in China. He has made trips to China to work camps for the brand and has been blown away by the country’s passion for the game. “Instead of being another guy with a shoe company, I’m one of ANTA’s featured players,” Thompson says. “It’s such a trip to me that I will actually be in commercials that air in China—it’s hard to believe that basketball has taken me that far. It’s like a pinch-myself moment every time I go over there. I would go to some events where I was featured on stage and there would be 6,000-7,000 people. The only place I might get that turnout is in the Bay—maybe. It’s crazy to me.”
Klay has also joined the strong team of athletes at BODYARMOR, noting Kobe Bryant’s involvement in the company as a major factor. “I like their mindset in the sports drink game,” he says. “I’ve been to a few of their camps and they are really passionate about what they are doing and I think they are going to blow up.”
He has rounded out his marketing portfolio with a natural partnership with Shot Tracker, a sleeve that can be worn during workouts to record data on your performance.
Despite his heavy off-court demand, the goal has not changed for Klay. He wants to continue to transcend his game—he’s only 25 and knows there is still plenty of room for growth. He is excited about working with new Warriors assistant coach Steve Nash to add new wrinkles to his arsenal.
“I worked out with him twice when I was in L.A. and learned a lot about what I need to get better at,” Thompson says. “We didn’t even shoot the ball that much—we did a lot of technical work on things like balance. He’s still in great shape and really gave me some great pointers on how to play at a lower level and work on my balance so I can be in a better position to make plays. I know how good he is going to be for me.”
Thompson’s heard the whispers about teams attempting to mimic the Warriors’ style of play. The notion that teams across the League are planning to attempt more threes, play a little more “small ball.”
“People seem to think it’s easy,” says Thompson, who’s averaging 18.2 ppg through the Warriors’ ongoing and insane 23-game winning streak. “To play our style you really need to have five guys on the court that can shoot, pass and dribble. Not a lot of teams have that, you know?”
His growth as a player has coincided with his development as a communicator. Thoughtful and insightful, he has become a media favorite when it comes to snagging a quality quote.
It once seemed as if he despised having to talk.
“Ask anybody on the team, I said very few words here my first year,” Thompson says. “I feel a lot more comfortable around the facility and all the guys. Even with Bob Myers and our owners Joe and Peter—it’s easier to joke around with those guys being in my fifth year. But they really may have only heard me say 10 words my entire rookie year. It’s been a drastic change.”