OAKLAND, Calif. – Klay Thompson craved a little calm.
The Golden State guard needed something more to balance out his basketball routine, so he added meditation to help him get centered before games and better deal with the pressures of NBA life. Flip on some classical music or nature sounds and he’s ready to relax his mind.
It takes consistent practice, just like that pretty jumper.
“I try to go 30 minutes,” said Thompson, who is joined for some sessions by bulldog bestie Rocco. “It’s hard. It’s very hard. An hour would be nice, but you’ve got to work up to that.”
Thompson is in a good place, going to a fifth straight NBA Finals and chasing a three-peat with the Golden State Warriors.
Two-time reigning Finals MVP Kevin Durant sat out injured for the entire Western Conference finals, leaving Thompson and Splash Brother Stephen Curry to take on a greater load on both ends.
Thompson heads into Game 1 at Toronto tonight averaging 19.1 points per game in these playoffs, having scored 22.6 points per game in the five contests without Durant.
Mental preparation off the court is a major reason Thompson no longer lets things fester or bring him down, such as a tough loss or bad outing. He has said that earlier in his career it was hard to let go after games.
Now, he instead shrugs off a poor shooting performance with the simple notion of, “That’s the way the basketball gods can be.” Then, it’s back to work.
Left off the All-NBA team? “Oh, I didn’t?” he replied when told he hadn’t made the cut.
Thompson did allow himself a little eye roll in disbelief, before adding: “It is what it is. I can’t control it. Do I think there’s that many guards better than me in the league? No, but that’s the reason why we’re still playing. So, I don’t even want to get into it, honestly.”
The more media shy, under-the-radar of Golden State’s sensational backcourt – Curry is a two-time MVP – a slumping Thompson once held his hand up near his face and uttered, “I missed you,” when he finally got on a roll again at Portland on Dec. 29.
He credits meditation in part for how far he has come in handling everything as he wraps up his eighth NBA season.
Thompson added meditation and visualization into his routine the last couple of years. This is the typically stoic guard who plunged into the Pacific Ocean in Southern California before Game 4 of the first round against the Clippers following a performance that wasn’t up to his “standards.” He went out and scored 32 points after that with six 3-pointers, hitting his first seven shots.
“The mind’s so powerful. Just try to train the mind to deal with adversity in situations that are unpleasant but make you better in the long run, that’s what I try to do,” Thompson said when asked how he got involved meditation. “Just a lot of reading on the internet and learning from coach (Steve) Kerr. Learned from Tony Robbins, too. It was cool talking to him last year. He had a great outlook on things. Just from veteran players. David West taught me a lot about that side of the game, the mental part.”
Teammate Shaun Livingston can picture Thompson in a moment of complete serenity and peace – “100 percent, nothing would surprise me.”
Dr. Michael Gervais, a high-performance psychologist who has worked closely with the Seattle Seahawks, NBA players, USA Volleyball and other Olympic athletes, applauds Thompson taking up meditation on his own.
“So often we hold up world-leading athletes on a pedestal for their physical abilities, missing the deeper and extraordinary commitment they make toward pursuing their potential,” Gervais said. “There are only three things we can train as humans: our craft, our bodies, and our mind. World-class athletes don’t leave any of those up to chance – why should the rest of us?”
When he had a couple of days off after the Warriors wrapped up the Western Conference finals, Thompson noted, “I wish it was sunny” before adding, “A little overcast, but it’s all good.”
Thompson found out in April he will have his college jersey retired by Washington State, too.
“Klay is always someone who everybody sort of marvels at his life, the simplicity of his life. He just needs a basketball and his dog, and that’s it. And we all laugh about it,” Kerr said. “But Klay is a lot deeper than people realize, so it doesn’t surprise me that he’s meditating and he’s found ways to calm himself before games and keep himself going during the season.”
The 29-year-old Thompson takes time the night before a game to think ahead. It doesn’t matter if he’s in the driveway or hanging out in his backyard with beloved Rocco – “just random,” he said.
Sometimes he envisions each shot from a given spot on the floor that could present itself over the course of a game.
“Andre Iguodala told me that Tiger Woods visualizes every single shot he shoots on 18 holes on the golf course, so if he can do that, that’s incredible,” Thompson said. “That’s so many golf swings. I try to do the same approach to basketball. I just try to visualize, get in my spots, what my opponent is going to do. Yeah, so when you come to the game, you’ve kind of seen it before.”
He might go with some Mozart or Beethoven.
“Try to put on classical Pandora or some nature sounds. Can’t listen to rap or hip-hop when I do it, because then I just get distracted. Something pleasant in the background, it’s nice,” Thompson explained. “It’s a challenge. It’s much harder than working out. Especially for me, I’ve got like my mind racing. So it’s a good practice for me.”
Kerr considers Thompson one of the most down-to-earth NBA superstars.
“He’s a dream to coach. He’s zero maintenance,” Kerr said. “But he’ll surprise you with his depth. You may not think there’s a whole lot there, but there’s plenty there. He just sort of doesn’t let you in on it very often.”
Thompson knows it’s not a perfect science to get his shot back on track after a poor outing. The meditation provides a focus.
“I still will have bad days once in a while, but that’s just being human,” Thompson said. “It’s something I’ve incorporated in my routine for at least the past season, especially when I was going through that shooting slump. That really helped me. It’s just nice to manifest things. Kind of like speak into existence, just kind of think it into existence.”
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