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Lowell Cohn: Warriors' Klay Thompson the strong, silent type

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OAKLAND — I am fascinated by Klay Thompson.

Fascinated because he’s a top-10 player in the NBA, one of the Warriors’ three top-10 players. You know the other two. But I’m more fascinated by something else.

By what I don’t know about him. The total tonnage of what I don’t know is mind-blowing. I know Draymond Green. How could anyone not know Green? And I know Stephen Curry because he’s all over the place.

But Thompson is quiet. Almost say nonverbal. He is the strong silent type. American heroes in movies and books — often cowboy stories — are the strong silent type. Nonverbal. Let their actions speak for themselves. Don’t brag. Or explain. Or apologize.

The gunslinger — an American archetype — lets his six-shooter do his talking, does what a man has to do. That’s the code. Thompson lets his jumper do his talking. The gunslinger and the jump shooter both take their shots.

Thompson, whom I don’t understand, is the exact opposite of Green, whom I do understand. I am not saying one is a better person than the other. I am saying they are contrasting personalities. Green outspoken with that big personality, celebrating after drilling a 3. Thompson jogging down the court after nailing a 3, his head down. “Don’t focus on me. Just doing my job.” Almost erasing himself.

Who is he?

I asked on Friday after the Warriors practice. Asked Thompson about Thompson and asked others about Thompson. Started by asking Steve Kerr. A reasonable person always starts with Kerr.

“They are total opposites,” Kerr said, thinking this one over. “Draymond is always talking, and Klay rarely speaks. Klay just wants to go about his business, does everything sort of below the radar. The one area where they’re similar is they’re both near the top of the league when you talk about the best two-way players. It’s kind of fun as a coach to have such different personalities, different talents.”

“When Klay makes a dramatic shot, he doesn’t celebrate as far as I can tell,” I said. “He walks down the court. Obviously, you’re not inside him, but you may have talked to him about it. Is he jubilant inside or just business as usual?”

“I think he’s jubilant inside,” Kerr said. “Every once in a while, you see Klay when he gets really hot and makes five in a row. He’ll gesture to the crowd to stand up. I think he has a lot of fun. He just doesn’t show it that often.”

“Is he quiet around the team?” I asked.

“Yes, very quiet. He’s actually opened up. When I took the job, everybody told me he hardly ever said anything. He’s got a really dry sense of humor and he kind of picks his spots to show it. He hides a lot of things, I think, but he’s a great person and fun to be around.”

Let’s move on to Thompson himself, seated in one of the big chairs at the edge of the gym, answering in short sentences. A declarative speaker. I said he and Green have contrasting personalities. Thompson said, “Aha.” Seeing where this was going. I said, after a big shot, he goes down the court silently, doesn’t celebrate. Is he feeling joy inside?

“My whole life I’ve been like that no matter the sport,” he said. “Never showed a great deal of emotion. I have my times when I do, but I’ve always been a stoic competitor. I never really was out there the most vocal guy. I lead by example, not really taking plays off. It might not look like it, but I’m also having fun. I got that cool and collected temperament. I’ve had it since I was a kid.”

“Are you feeling cool and collected after you make a big play?” I asked.

“It definitely helps,” he said. “Just keep an even keel because in basketball you’ve got to be in continuous play. You can’t celebrate too much because it’s such a fast-paced game.”

“Final question: Have you ever been ejected from an NBA game?”

“I’ve not. I don’t argue. I’ll tell him I think he was wrong, but I won’t bicker about it all game. I’d rather be out there so I never really want to get ejected. And if it’s a bad call to me, it’s over with. You just move on. Officials make bad calls like we miss shots sometimes.”

Here’s Raymond Ridder who runs public relations for the Warriors: “We have the best backcourt in the league. Stephen Curry gets endorsements, was on Good Morning America, is on magazine covers. It doesn’t bother Klay. He feels no jealousy. He loves that Steph gets the attention. If I never asked Klay to do an interview ever again, he’d be happy with me. On some teams it’s not like this.”

Finally, here is assistant coach Ron Adams. As I’ve written, Adams is the Socrates of basketball coaches. I asked him to compare Thompson and Green, one out there, the other inward.

“If you’re just going to make a stark contrast, there might be some truth to that,” Adams said. “But with Klay there’s a lot of nuance. Klay is a really great human being. Kind, supportive, a real free spirit. I really like that about him.

“He’s very intense, but he doesn’t show his intensity the way Draymond shows his. Draymond, his intensity reverberates in his body and then comes out verbally. Klay is a very intense person internally. He doesn’t always talk it. Maybe it would be good if he did talk it more, but he’s a purposeful and, in his own way, a focused individual.

“He’s not the most talkative guy, but when you talk with him, you always learn something about his personality. People assume he’s a minimalist talker. He’s much more than minimalist. He has a really good view of life, very respectful of family and teammates and really how he does his business. He’s a very thoughtful person.”

I hope you got a picture of Thompson — the beginnings of a picture. Inward. Quiet. Thoughtful. Intense. Content to be in Curry’s shadow. Not submissive. Knows who he is. Knows how good he is. More complex than we understand. Basketball gunslinger. John Wayne.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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