A funny thing happened during the Golden State Warriors blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night. And no, it wasn’t the lopsided defeat that was funny. It was Klay Thompson getting ejected for the first time in his career, after a tussle with fellow All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker.
Klay has been ejected from the game pic.twitter.com/oqN2WyB7Uq— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) October 26, 2022
It came after a lot of jawing between the two throughout the game. And throughout the years, for that matter.
That banter was predictable. There are a lot of similarities between Booker and Thompson, a pair of sharpshooting Pacific Division All-Star 2-guards who comport themselves with mostly quiet arrogance.
The primary difference between the two is the seven-year age difference; a passing-of-the-guard narrative tends to breed tension. Well, that and the other notable difference: the four-to-zero scoreboard in the rings department, which Klay was apparently quick to point out on Tuesday night.
In the aftermath of the skirmish, I watched as Twitter did that thing that it does. Booker fans attacked Thompson fans; Thompson fans attacked Booker fans. Suns fans attacked Warriors fans: Warriors fans attacked Suns fans. People on both sides made outlandish claims that their guy was dramatically better than the other ever has been or ever will be. Insults were hurled. Unfair criticisms were levied.
Chaos ensued, as all hopes of productive discourse dissolved.
And as it transpired, something funny — but predictable — happened. Booker was asked about Thompson, and his response was glowing.
"Man, I love Klay Thompson."— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) October 26, 2022
DBook on his exchange with Klay pic.twitter.com/lVPoe4IhqQ
“Man, I love Klay Thompson,” Booker said in his on-court interview just moments after the buzzer rang. “And I have from the beginning. From the draft, coming out, I said I wanted to be Klay Thompson. That doesn’t excuse us from competing against each other, and talking a little mess with each other. So I had fun with it. Big fan of his, and his competitive nature. And that’s that.”
It wasn’t just lip service to look good on national TV. Backstage, in his far less-circulated post-game presser, Booker repeated the praise, saying, “I love Klay Thompson, I have for a really long time ... I’ve always admired his game, how he plays on both sides of the ball, and obviously the rings speak for themselves.”
Booker also didn’t shy away from praising the Warriors for the very success that Thompson was taunting him with. He told the media that Klay’s trash talk was primarily frequent reminders of the championship bling, saying with a smile, “They have four rings. He repeated it over and over. And they do. And they do.” And all this comes just a week after Booker praised the Warriors culture following an opening night game-winner by teammate Damion Lee.
It was a good reminder. As fans, we often fall down the rabbit hole of hating other franchises and players, and amplifying rivalries beyond what they actually are. Warriors fans know this, and sometimes struggle with this. I still get pushback when I try to inform some fans that Steph Curry and LeBron James like each other, or that James and Draymond Green are friends; and the fans who have accepted the latter often do so under the guise of calling Dray a traitor. The Chris Paul-hating segment of the fanbase (which is to say, the entire fanbase) conveniently turned off the TV right before it turned to Curry, huge grin on his face despite the lass, hugging Paul and catching up with him.
At the end of the day, most NBA players have a lot of respect and adoration, and yes, often even friendship for each other. It’s no different than you trash talking your friends or siblings over a tipsy game of ping-pong, or an extra-intense Settlers of Catan showdown on game night. They just have more cameras on them, and can reference things that we plebeian non-millionaires will never understand.
It’s all love.