“I think it’s cool to lead the league in threes made,” Klay Thompson said during a post-game press conference Sunday night, his last of the regular season. “I’m usually right about things I say,” he went on, digging deeper into a subtextual resentment, but as vaguely as possible. “People might not give me credit, but they usually come true.” Throughout this odd monologue, he looked down at the table, not out at any of the reporters. He took a piece of paper with box scores and other figures on it, and folded it into a paper plane. It is the most iconic use of a stat sheet since Jimmy Butler crumpled one up and tossed it over his shoulder, while gleefully dancing—or, since Butler looked at one with a very funny face.
Thompson’s mix of boredom, pride, non-specificity, and loveable childish wonder in this moment is his alone. There is no one like him; he both ambles cluelessly through the world and cockily struts his way up its hierarchies. He is, at once, a disengaged stoner and one of the most present men alive. He once had a magical toaster. He said “holy cannoli” more profoundly than anyone ever has. He randomly did a local news segment about… scaffolding in New York City? He often lives on a boat that he rides straight up to the Chase Center for practices and games. He has also been more pointed with his more bitter talk, before—he gave us a trail back to Jaren Jackson Jr. last season, and in 2016 he said “I guess his feelings just got hurt” about LeBron James.
But this week, as he speaks with total self-assurance, but also a conviction too diluted to say what he really means, Klay embodies both the zombie-like 2022-23 defending champion Golden State Warriors’ malaise, and that of the league in general as we end another long season in its most laborious, most unstable era ever. At a time when everyone is tired but still hoping to prove something in the postseason this Spring, his sluggish barbs speak for all; and if the league came to a formal vote for most-beloved man, designated to truly represent everyone, Thompson would have as good a chance as anyone at coming out on top.
On the opposite end of those results would be Rudy Gobert. Probably the most-disliked person in the modern NBA, his regular season ended with maximum indignity on Sunday. His Minnesota Timberwolves won the game to get a boost in the Western Conference play-in field, but Gobert was sent home part way through, after getting into a physical altercation with teammate Kyle Anderson during a timeout. The reported details of the verbiage that precipitated their brief shoving match are, as expected, juvenile: Anderson sassily told Gobert to “block some shots,” Gobert told Anderson to “grab a rebound,” and then Anderson told Gobert to “shut the f— up, bitch” before Gobert struck him.
Notable in video of the instance is how Timberwolves teammates react. Gobert is quickly shoved out of the scrum by Taurean Prince, subjected to island status, while teammates swarm Anderson to hold him back. There is no question about who is more well-liked in the Minnesota locker room. Gobert doesn’t help himself any by making public appearances with unfunny “comedian” trolls who traffic in reactionary propaganda and regressive ideals about roughly every major societal concern, like his apparent friend Joe Rogan, who he was visibly, lovingly with this past weekend. Media members whose lives are regularly rich with friction from Roganites in their social media replies are not, as a result, eager to help Gobert tell a different story, so he ends up getting guff on both sides.
The Wolves have found a certain stride, nonetheless, as they enter their play-in contest against the Los Angeles Lakers, which wasn’t going to be short on sideshows even before the Gobert-Anderson explosion. The narratively overloaded game figures to be a spark of life that will wake up the league’s fans at a time when their interest is lagging. Now, we are back to the annual proving ground, the place where stakes are felt and all the impassioned words of the past several months gain or lose their real meaning. Let the ennui give way to playoff fire, here to melt basketball’s winter.