Tonight, one of the NBA’s more eccentric characters is making his long-awaited return. Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors will be suiting up for the first time since June 13, 2019 — Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Who knew that when he tore his ACL that night that it would be roughly 2.5 years before he played another game. And a rough 2.5 years it was. Not just for Thompson himself, who, after the long road back from the ACL injury, suffered an Achilles injury. But for the league and world as a whole. Namely COVID-19.
Under no circumstances would you ever want to suffer back-to-back career threatening injuries and miss multiple seasons of your prime. But if ever you were going to miss 2.5 seasons, this was the time to do it. There’s never been a more tumultuous and chaotic time to be an NBA player.
Just think about everything Thompson was able bypass. Here are the broad strokes:
March 11, 2020 — The NBA season comes to a screeching halt after the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert tests positive for COVID-19. No one knows how long the hiatus will be or what to do. Some players, like the Raptors’ Pascal Siakam, are stuck in limbo. Unable to leave the country. No access to team facilities. Basically confined to a condo for 4 months. Before the season would continue, players were finally allowed to use team facilities. But only a few at a time. And no full practices or scrimmages.
July 30, 2020 — The NBA season finally resumes in Disney World of all places. Players, coaches, team personnel, etc. are confined to a bubble. A resort, yes. But still an enclosed area that they cannot leave. Nor can anyone enter. Not friends. Not friends with benefits. Not family (at least not for a while). Players enter with various amounts of rust and conditioning. And everyone is subject to testing, testing and more testing.
August 26, 2020 — While in the bubble, in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting, and all the previous shootings of black individuals at the hands of the police with no justice in sight, the Bucks walked out of a first round playoff game vs. the Magic in protest. The playoffs looked to be over with the Lakers, Clippers and other teams seriously considering going home.
December 2020 — After many discussions around a mid-January start, the 2020–21 NBA season began in late December, making it the shortest offseason in history. The new season tipped off just a little over 2 months after the Lakers defeated the Heat in the Finals in the grueling bubble. For the teams that didn’t qualify for the bubble, the offseason was never ending. But for those who played, especially the Lakers and Heat teams, the offseason was microscopic. For older players like LeBron James, or players recovering from injuries or surgery, who desperately needed a longer offseason for rest and recovery, well, those players were SOL.
2020–21 Season — Due to players testing positive and contact tracing, games were constantly being postponed. Some teams were even shut down entirely for weeks. Practice time was cut. More games had to be crammed into the second half schedule. And players’ social habits began to be restricted, especially when on the road, to limit their exposure to COVID-19.
2021–22 Season — So far, this season has been far worse in terms of the number of players missing time to due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Which, to be honest, I still don’t fully grasp. (And I’m not sure the league does, either.) Seemingly every night, a cavalcade of players were entering the protocols. Teams were flying into cities only to find out that the game was postponed. And instead of shutting teams down, even after some teams like the Raptors and Hawks lost 10+ players due to protocols, rightly or wrongly, the NBA’s stance was the show must go on. So now teams are allowed to sign G-League and unsigned players to 10-day contracts that won’t count towards the cap. Players you’ve never heard of (and, more than likely, will never hear from again) started suiting up for your favourite team, meeting for the first time just hours before jump ball. Players you thought long retired, like Joe Johnson and Lance Stephenson, started to reappear. The famous “Who He Play For” Charles Barkley game went from somewhat easy to downright impossible. Most games became a joke, with some teams fielding Summer League lineups. Case in point, December 26, 2021, when the Raptors visited the Cavaliers. Check out the “NBA” roster the Raptors deployed that night.
Both NBA, of course, is not out of the woods. But with a huge wave of NBA players returning to action from protocols, and having been able to skip right over the last 2.5 seasons, now’s a better time than any for Thompson to make his sharp shooting return.
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