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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former Washington State great Klay Thompson is back on top after overcoming injuries: ‘He came back better than ever’

Golden State’s Klay Thompson receives congratulations from Tony Robbins, right, after the Warriors won the NBA title Thursday.  (JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO/Tribune News Service)
By Madeline Kenney Tribune News Service

BOSTON – Klay Thompson was one of the last Golden State Warriors players standing on the stage at TD Garden after the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy presentation celebration.

The Warriors were champions, again. And Thompson didn’t want to take one second of it for granted.

“I was feeling absolutely incredible,” a champagne-soaked Thompson said of that moment of pure bliss after the Warriors beat the Celtics 103-90 to win another NBA title. “I was feeling just so high on life that I did not want to leave the stage, and I just know how hard this is, and to be here for a fourth time, like so grateful for my teammates.”

Thompson, who starred at Washington State, had a feeling from the beginning of this season that this could happen. In November, still months away from his long-anticipated return, Thompson confidently proclaimed this season was “championship or bust” for the Warriors, who sprinted to an 18-2 start despite being undermanned.

“People called me crazy,” Thompson said. “I knew we had a chance to do something special, and here we are. It’s so incredible. Wow.”

The prophecy has been fulfilled and the taste of sweet victory – mixed with champagne and beer, of course – made the past three years of pain and suffering that Thompson endured worth it.

“I’m just at a loss for words at times. Because I knew this was possible but to be here in real time, man, I don’t want to leave,” he said. “I want to enjoy every second of this. I know how fleeting it can be.”

Thompson’s resiliency to overcome not one but two career-altering injuries has been inspiring to his teammates.

“I’m excited for him, man. Seen all the work he put in, and all the dedication and all the hard work he had, dealing with all the injuries and all the ups and downs he had … he came back better than ever, on a mission,” Kevon Looney said after the victory. “He helped us win a lot of games and helped us win this championship.”

It’s been 1,100 days since Thompson crumpled to the court of Oracle Arena in excruciating pain during Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. He memorably tried to stay in the game, shooting a pair of free throws before exiting for a final time. He knew he would be back eventually, but he didn’t know when and at what level he would play.

Thompson seemed to be nearing his return when his right Achilles tendon betrayed him before the 2020-21 season.

“The second time it happened it was like, ‘What the heck is going on, man?’ ” he said. “Just to stay with it, just calf raise after calf raise, after underwater treadmill, so many days, not even touching a ball.”

But Thompson powered through the strenuous and slow rehabilitation process for this. Now, he’s joining his teammates Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala to be among only 40 all-time NBA players who have won four titles.

“The anguish that Klay has felt over the last three years … people can guess as to what it is like, but we saw it up close. And between a second yearlong injury and losing what he loves to do most in life – playing the game – it’s been a rough go for him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

“So his return was special for us on and off the floor because of what he’s meant to the organization, what he’s done for this team, and then of course his play. I mean, his two-way ability is up at the top of the league. So we’re thrilled for Klay.”

“Credit to him,” Looney said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s the ultimate professional, and he’s somebody you can always rely on. So I’m just proud to be his teammate and be able to be with him this long.”