When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. When the student is really ready, the teacher will disappear. (Lao Tzu)
Klay Thompson was not at Staples Center, nor was he watching while chilling on the coach, when Kobe Bryant played the last game of his 20 year career. Klay was otherwise occupied. At the same time Kobe was doing Kobe things, lots of shots, lots of points in his last of the Mohicans swan song, the Golden State Warriors were playing their 82nd game of the year, which would be their 73rd win of the year, which would wrap up the best NBA regular season in history.
400 miles south on the 101, Kobe was scoring 60 points against Gordon Hayward and the Utah Jazz in dramatic, electric, spectacular fashion, outscoring the Jazz 10-0 in the last two and a half minutes to leave the game a winner.
In Oakland, the Warriors were immersed in their exceptionalism. We are the best team ever jumped off the partying. They were celebrating their accomplishment on a Wednesday night, a brief respite before the playoffs.
Before the 2015-16 season began, the chatter was about the Warriors being a fluke. Their style of play wasn’t sustainable. They were a fetish that would soon disappear. But a beautiful 24-0 start propelled them to 73 wins and their collective happiness on April 13th. Then, in the midst of all the euphoria and ecstasy, Klay heard buzz about another game being played at exactly the same time, and it had just concluded too. Front and center in the talking points was Klay Thompson’s long time idol who was playing the last game of his career.
For Klay Thompson, it wasn’t even a shaking the head moment, 60 points, 50 shots. Klay knew more than everyone else did. He wasn’t just a Kobe Bryant fan. He was a Kobe Bryant student. He had been around Bryant for a decade.
Klay was privileged, not just as the son of a NBA champion and everything that afforded him, both financially and basketball tutorial wise, but Klay also had an insiders view very few players get to have. He saw Kobe workouts and Kobe practices and was given personal pieces of Kobe sage advice and wit, punctuated with the Kobe curse-like-a-sailor motivational one liners.
All that ended on April 14, 2016. Klay was on his own. When the student is ready, the teacher disappears.
Three years before April 13 2016, someone asked Klay if he was in the Kobe Circle, meaning best shooting guard in the league. He was skeptical.
“I don’t know if I am in his circle yet. I don’t have a championship. I don’t have an All-Star game under my belt. But yeah, it’s cool just to be known as one of the better shooing guards in the league.”
Thirty eight months later the evidence is in. He’s in the circle. Two titles. Three NBA Finals appearances. Three All-Stars. The only shooting guard with the complete game, a scorer and defender. He single handedly sacrificed his game in the Finals to shut down Kyrie Irving. He is a better defender than James Harden, a better scorer than Jimmy Butler, more versatile than C.J. McCollum and Bradley Beal, more efficient than Eric Gordon.
Unlike that April night in L.A. when Kobe said goodbye to a standing room only house, absent Klay Thompson, Klay will be up close and center when both of Kobe’s jerseys are retired. He will be reminded of what he is playing for: immortality.
When Klay entered the league in 2011, Kobe was one year removed from winning his fifth title. Kobe’s jersey being retired illustrates how long Klay has been around. At 27, he is officially in his prime. This is the 7th year of Thompson draining threes and guarding scorers.
|The 7th Year||Points||FG%||Offensive Rating||PER||NBA Titles|
|Klay Thompson (2017-18)||20.9||50.5%||114||18.2||2|
|Kobe Bryant (2002-03)||30.0||45.1%||111||26.2||3|
Klay’s 7th year, he is putting up numbers Bryant never did. He is shooting a career high 50%. He is making 45% of his threes, a career high. Even his free throws are at a career level of 88%. He is rebounding the ball more, has a career high offensive rating. On long two’s, he is making 55% of his shots.
When Klay was drafted this was the wisdom: “A versatile offensive weapon who can score in a variety of ways within a team’s offense.” (Draft Express)
When Kobe was drafted this was the wisdom: He’s a winning style guy, we realize there’s a lot to overcome when you come out of high school but if anyone has a good chance, this young man is blessed with outstanding offensive skills.” (Hubie Brown).
The Warriors had a chance to draft Kobe in 1996 with the 11th pick. They took Todd Fuller who ended up playing 5 years and 225 games. Had Kobe been a Warrior, the chance of the Dubs drafting Klay, having that high of a pick in 2011, may have been slim to none. But look at what they could have done before then. The possibilities make you dizzy.
The Warriors had a brain freeze in 1996 and so in 2011 they did the next best thing. They drafted Klay Thompson. He’s not the next Kobe Bryant but he is the Kobe heir apparent: tough, competitor, ruthless, scorer, All-Star, champion, Hall of Fame trajectory.
Tonight Klay comes full circle as he and all his teammates watch the jersey(s) hang in the rafters. And tonight Klay becomes part of the Kobe circle.
The student is ready. The teacher can disappear.