OREGON ROOTS run deep for Klay Thompson
OAKLAND — The major subplots during the NBA Western Conference finals have involved Damian Lillard's Oakland roots and brothers Stephen and Seth Curry squaring off against each other.
Then there is Golden State's Klay Thompson, who spent his formative years growing up in the Portland area.
Thompson, son of former Trail Blazers center Mychal Thompson and the "other" Splash Brother, attended Riverdale Grade School and was bound for Jesuit High when the family moved from Portland to Southern California after his eighth-grade year.
"It broke my heart," Mychal Thompson says from his home in Ladera Ranch, California. "The only regret about leaving Portland — other than it's a great place to live — is I hated taking Klay away from Jesuit and the great friends he had."
Klay, 29, is the middle of the three sons of Mychal and wife Julie, the latter a native of Ridgefield, Washington, who once played volleyball at the University of Portland. Mychel, 30, played five games with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011-12 and recently retired after a career playing professionally in Europe. He and Klay are roommates in the Bay Area. Trayce, 28, is an outfielder who has played parts of four seasons in the major leagues. He is with Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland Indians organization.
Mychal Thompson, the No. 1 pick in the 1978 draft, spent the first seven of his outstanding 12-year NBA career with the Blazers. (He did not play the 1979-80 season due to a broken leg). A native of The Bahamas who played his college ball at Minnesota, he played his final 4 1/2 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, helping them win a championship in 1988.
After the Blazers traded Mychal in 1986, the Thompsons kept their home in Portland. After he retired in 1991, Mychal worked in Portland radio until 2004, when he landed a broadcasting job with the Lakers. He recently completed his 15th year as the team's radio analyst and co-hosts a daily radio sports talk show in L.A.
"The boys hated leaving Lake Oswego and the Portland area," Mychal says. "They loved it up there. After we moved, they adapted to Orange County, but they hated leaving Portland. I loved the city, too. I miss Portland every day. Loved my time up there."
Klay Thompson says the current series with the Blazers has been extra meaningful, because it's the team he grew up rooting for.
"I have the best memories," he says. "The Rose Garden was so much fun to go to. I was so lucky. I was able to meet Michael Jordan after a game in 1998. I was really shy. My dad took us back and we got to meet Michael and Scottie (Pippen). I've seen the footage of it. It's probably my favorite memory. When (the Chicago Bulls) came to town, you had to go to that game. It's the same thing we bring nowadays, when the Warriors come to town.
"I was a big-time Blazer fan. Rasheed Wallace was my favorite player. I knew Rasheed and went to school with his son. We're still friends. I have so many cousins, uncles and aunts living (in the Portland area). I have all my childhood friends. I love seeing them. It's always fun going back and playing there."
Plenty has happened since Thompson's formative years in Portland. After an outstanding collegiate career at Washington State, he is now in his eighth season with Golden State, pairing with Curry to form one of the most dynamic backcourt duos in NBA history. Together, the two have won titles in 2015, '17 and '18 with the Warriors. Thompson has been selected for the last five All-Star games.
"People will roll their eyes when they read this — typical stage father," Mychal says with a chuckle. "I don't want to come across as a braggart, but I have to tell you that I expected this.
"I told Klay when he was a high school junior, 'If you stay humble and healthy and hungry — those three 'H's' — you're going to be a Hall of Famer.' He looked at me like I was crazy. I said, 'You have the skills. If you respect the gifts you've been blessed with, keep working hard and respect the game and your opportunity, you can be as great as you want to be.'
"He could shoot, he handled the ball well, he understood the game. I knew he was going to get better if he kept a passion for the game. I knew he could achieve greatness."
Klay credits his father and Joe Kaempf, his youth basketball coach, for his shooting prowess.
"I was lucky to have had a dad play in the league who taught me from a young age," Klay says. "Joe taught me how to shoot a jump shot in the key when I was in seventh grade. Evern since then, I just fell in love with shooting."
"Klay has had great coaches at every level, beginning with Joe, who was great for the kids," Mychal says. "I'd recommend him to any parent. He teaches them the right way to play the game. I didn't work with Klay that much. He had such good form and a good touch. I just left him alone."
Asked by a Bay Area reporter how he handled the weather in Oregon, Klay had an emphatic reply.
"I'm like a chameleon," he says. "I can adapt to anything. I love Portland. I don't mind the rain. I appreciate how green Oregon is, the clean air, the trees and all the beautiful landscape and the terrain. It makes me appreciate the outdoors."
There was an additional benefit.
"I spent so much time in the gym because of the rain," he says, "I'm grateful for it."
Klay is evidently a beach guy who enjoys his visits to coastal spots in the Bay Area.
"On the Oregon Coast, you might get hypothermia," he says to a chorus of laughs. "You can jump in for a little bit; you'll be all right. Might want to bring a wet suit. Kind of sharky up there, too.
"(People) will jump in the Columbia, maybe the Willamette, but not close to the city — down a little bit. Lake Oswego is nice. You can find a nice body of water. They've got a lot of them up there."
Whenever Thompson visits the Portland area, "I try to hit Burgerville, then go see my family in Vancouver," he says.
Is Burgerville better than In-N-Out?
"Yeah, I like it better," Klay nods.
Klay is asked what is his favorite place in the world.
"I always think about that," he says with a smile. "Portland's up there, because I spent my whole childhood there. I love the Bay Area." He pauses. "I'd say the West Coast and The Bahamas are where my heart's at."
Stephen Curry is flashy, a magnet for attention from fans and media with his style of play, shooting range and megawatt smile. Thompson is the opposite — laid-back, understated, quietly efficient at both ends of the court.
"I love that about him," his father says. "He doesn't have to go out there and be the center of attention. That's how I was, even though I enjoyed talking to the press. That's how his mother was, too. If the spotlight comes, it's great, but it's not something that Klay searches out."
"It's not like he's stoic all the time," says his coach, Steve Kerr. "He gets emotional at times, too. He lets it all out. He's a big-time competitor. That's one of the underrated things that maybe people don't see too often or don't realize what they're looking at. He's an unbelievably tough, gritty competitor."
Klay sees that as perhaps his most important attribute.
"My competitiveness is what allows me to play both sides of the ball so well," he says. "I hate getting scored on. I'm such a perfectionist in my shooting, sometimes to a fault. It's about channeling the fire the right way. As my career has gone on, I've been able to do that."
Thompson is as steady as they come. He has averaged more than 20 points in each of the last five seasons, during which he has always shot from .463 to .488 from the field and from .402 to .440 from 3-point range. He has missed only 25 games over that stretch.
Klay holds the NBA record for 3's in a playoff game, having hit 11 of 18 attempts against Oklahoma City in 2016. He has the regular-season record, too, knocking down 14 of 24 shots from beyond the arc against Chicago early this season.
Klay set the league mark for most points in a quarter, bombing in 37 (on 13 for 13 from the field) against Sacramento in 2015.
He notched his career high of 60 points in a game against Indiana in 2016.
When Thompson gets on a roll, look out.
"It's kind of scary, because you don't know what's going to come next," teammate Andre Iguodala says. "You could get anything. He's always locked in. Sometimes he just might be a silent killer. Other times he's showing that passion. He's engaged, really into the moment. That's when he hits tough shots. He's lasered in on the basket."
It's at the defensive end where Thompson may not get enough credit. Despite being the Warriors' backcourt stopper, he has never made an All-NBA defensive first or second team.
"He guards everybody — from LeBron (James) to Kyrie (Irving) to (Russell) Westbrook to Chris Paul," Kerr says. "That's why he's one of the very best players in the league, because the playoffs are about two-way players. You have to be able to score. You have to be able to defend. The two-way guys rule the day in the playoffs, and Klay is right at the top of that list."
Why, then, is Thompson not getting his due?
"I blame you guys (in the media) for not exposing it more," Kerr says with a smile. "He doesn't need the fanfare. Klay gets lost in the shuffle a little bit because we have Steph and (Kevin Durant), two MVPs. Draymond (Green) gets a lot of attention, too, as he should. He's an All-Star and the emotional heartbeat of the team.
"Klay blends in, But you ask any coach around the league, he's one of the most respected players in the game."
Thompson seems like a mellow fellow, but emotions can run high during a game, and pressures can build through a long season. Over the last year, he has begun to focus more on what he calls "rest and meditation."
"The mind is so powerful," he says. "You're trying to train the mind to deal with adversity in situations that are unpleasant, but make you better in the long run."
Thompson says Kerr has been helpful on the subject. He says he benefited from a meeting last year with motivational guru Tony Robbins.
"It was cool talking to him," Thompson says. "He had a great outlook on things. I've also talked with some veterans, like (former Warrior) David West, about the mental part of the game."
Thompson says his goal is to meditate the night before every game.
"I try to go for 30 minutes," he says. "I could be in the backyard or while I'm in the driveway — whenever I have down time.
"Andre told me Tiger Woods visualizes every single shot through 18 holes on a golf course. If he can do that, it's incredible. That's so many golf swings. I try to use the same approach to basketball. I try to visualize, get in my spots, (think about) what my opponent is going to do. So when you come to the game, you've kind of seen it before."
Klay says he listens to music while meditating — "classical Pandora, or some nature sounds," he says. "Can't listen to rap or hip-hop, because I get distracted. Something pleasant. It's a challenge. It's much harder than working out, because I have my mind racing."
The meditation has helped him mentally prepare for his on-court challenges.
"I still have bad days once in a while, but that's just being human," Thompson says. "It's something I've incorporated into my routine, especially when I'm going through a shooting slump. It really helps me. It's nice to manifest things, to speak it into existence, to think it into existence."
Kerr smiles when asked about his player's mental exercises.
"Everybody marvels at what they perceive as the simplicity of Klay's life," the coach says. "That he needs a basketball and his dog and that's it, and we all laugh about it.
"But Klay is a lot deeper than people realize. It doesn't surprise me that he is meditating and has found ways to calm himself before games and through the season. I'm sure Julie and Mychal have had a lot to do with his maturity and the way he does things. He'll surprise you with his depth. There's plenty there — he just doesn't let you in on it very often."
Thompson has made a boat load of money during his NBA career, and he is about to make more. He is in the final year of a four-year, $69 million contract, which calls for him to make nearly $19 million this year. As an unrestricted free agent this summer, he'll listen to overtures from other teams, though it seems likely he'll wind up staying with the Warriors for a very lucrative deal.
"You just don't split up what I consider the best backcourt we've ever seen," his father says. "Klay and Steph are still in their prime, and will be the next four or five years. The Warriors move into (brand new) Chase Center next year. It makes no sense not to sign him."
Klay isn't commenting on, or thinking about, contract issues at this point. There is another championship to chase, and he is trying to take a little time to sniff the roses while in pursuit of a fourth ring.
"To be able to do what we do year in and year out, I do not take it for granted," he says. "I'll try to enjoy it for as long as I can. It's a special opportunity, a special position for me to be in, playing on such a great team."