SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Golden State Warriors fans began lining up outside of San Francisco’s Chase Center hours before Sunday night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, many carrying signs and wearing No. 11 jerseys in honor of the return of Klay Thompson from a nearly 2 1/2 year absence because of injury.
They erupted in cheers as he walked out of the tunnel, roared with every warmup shot and were in near frenzy when he was introduced.READ MORE: Oakland Police Arrest Homicide Suspect Who Fatally Shot Male Victim, Fired at Firefighters
“Those are very special moments I’ll never forget,” Thompson said after the game. “I’ll never forget this night. I’ll never forget the reception the Warriors fans gave us, especially myself. Gosh it was fun and it was worth very single day of being away and on that squat rack or on that shuttle board. All the conditioning days. It was worth every single moment.”
The roar got even louder when Thompson drove for a layup and scored Golden State’s first points of what eventually was a 96-82 victory. It was his first points since being sidelined by first an ACL injury suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals and then a torn Achilles when he was rehabilitating.
“I’m just so grateful to just compete again,” he said. “It’s been a long road, but I’m just proud of myself for persevering. It was very special moment, I’m not going to say equivalent to winning the championship, but it was pretty freaking close because there were times in the past where you second guess yourself, you think — ‘Are you going to be the same player or have the same explosion or whatever the term.’ And just to be able to go out there and shoot the ball, play defense and compete, I mean, man, it was special.”
Thompson scored 17 points on the night.
“After that went in (the opening drive) I thought it might be one of those nights when I might be unconscious, but missed a few shots after that, there might have been some jitters,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m just happy right now, I did not shoot as well as I wanted to, but I’m just so happy I can even look at the stats sheet and see my name there.”READ MORE: San Francisco Police Arrest Man Suspected of Carjacking Uber Driver in SoMa
During the game, he clicked off every box. He guarded with tenacity, hit three 3-pointers and even scored on a thunderous dunk. He added three rebounds, an assist and a steal in 20 minutes, walking off the court to a thunderous ovation followed by chants of “Klay! Klay!” from the sold-out crowd.
Thompson wasn’t the only one who walked away from the Chase Center with a smile on their face and thoughts of what might ahead for the 30-9 Warriors.
“It happened,” said Thomas Denton of Oakland. “I didn’t even notice until I was wiping my eyes. I can’t see what he’s doing out there. Knowing that the journeys he’s been on and the work that he’s put in to get back here — he deserves all of the praise that he’s getting from the crowd.”
“I’ve been waiting for so long and just so happy my mom bought me tickets for tonight to come see Klay for tonight for my birthday – ‘Thanks mom!'” said Kelvin Alexander of Pittsburg.
During his recovery, thousands of fans got to know Captain Klay, a persona he adopted on his boat where he hosted several Instagram lives. Stacey Leong and Jeannie Chan of San Francisco paid tribute by wearing captain hats.
“It was really an honor to be here tonight to witness him coming back,” said Leong.MORE NEWS: 49ers Playoffs: Faithful Gear Up As Showdown Vs. Packers Nears
KPIX 5 reporter Betty Yu contributed to this story