OAKLAND — A fight broke out at Oracle Arena on Friday night. An honest-to-goodness fight between NBA players on the basketball court. The Warriors’ Draymond Green and the Wizards’ Bradley Beal wound up in an unfriendly bear hug 19 seconds before halftime, and when they tumbled to the court and teammates rushed to the fray, it was chaos.
The fans were on their feet. They screamed in anger, or bloodlust, or at least surprise. But all I could think of was: “Get Klay out of there! Keep him safe!”
Sports writers generally love their jobs, despite our dispositions. But the one bittersweet note in the whole affair, many will tell you, is that we no longer cheer as fans. Objectivity and all that. And here’s the weird part: The metamorphosis comes easily. When you cover a team, even if it’s the team you loved with all your heart when you were 10 years old, it’s chilling how quickly you find yourself able to critique it with cold detachment.
So it was weird Friday night at Oracle Arena when I found myself openly rooting for Klay Thompson, the Warriors’ shooting guard. But I make no apologies.
In the wake of the fires that ravaged our hills, Thompson selected three successive home games — Wednesday against the Raptors, Friday against the Wizards, Sunday against the Pistons — and pledged to donate $1,000 for every point he scored in those contests. The money is earmarked for Redwood Credit Union’s North Bay Fire Relief Fund, and RCU has promised to pass along every cent of it to fire victims and relief efforts.
Thompson has encouraged others to join his charity through the PledgeIt site, and they have responded in droves. The original goal was $250,000. The final tally will depend upon both Thompson’s scoring output and the number of joiners he has attracted. But by Friday night, the estimated total (based on a projection of 22 points per game by the All-Star shooter) had exceeded $290,000.
And I’m here for it.
I live in Napa. And so like so many other people in Sonoma and Napa counties, I spent more than a week surrounded by smoke, but ultimately sacrificed nothing beyond sleep and air quality. And yet I look around and see so much misery, so much uncertainty, so much vulnerability among my neighbors. I want to see them made whole again. And efforts like Redwood Credit Union’s are a credible first step.
So sitting in Oracle on Friday night, I hoped Klay Thompson would bankrupt himself. I wanted him to splash 3-pointers and bank runners off the glass and repeatedly get to the foul line. I wanted one of those electric Klay Games, like the time he scored 60 points in 29 minutes against the Pacers. Or the time he riddled the Kings for an NBA-record 37 points in a single quarter. Or the night he almost single-handedly saved the Warriors from playoff elimination with 41 points against the Thunder.
The Warriors as a team? Whatever. They’ll be rolling along by the time the playoffs start in April. An October game against Washington means little in the big picture. And I didn’t care if Thompson passed the ball or played a lick of defense. I just wanted him to score, score, score.
Thompson, as goofily likable as any athlete you’ll encounter, does not love talking to the media, at least not in formal settings. But he was patient when he addressed reporters at a Warriors practice Thursday, and again when he sat down with me to follow up after a Friday-morning shootaround. This subject clearly has taken on great meaning for him.
It was Thompson’s agent, Greg Lawrence of Wasserman Media Group, who first hatched the idea of the fire fund. Thompson said Lawrence was inspired by the efforts of athletes like J.J. Watt, James Harden and Tim Duncan after hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“I’ve been here for seven years now, and I know we have a ton of fans in the North Bay,” Thompson said. “So he kind of sparked the idea, but I was really down to run with it.”
It’s not like Thompson has a weekend home in Calistoga, but he spoke fondly of wine country. He served as grand marshal at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the IndyCar race at Sonoma Raceway, in September, and has golfed in both Sonoma and Napa counties. He said he’s spent time at the Russian River and called it “beautiful.”
But his concern for the region intensified after his “community outreach team” — which includes his brother Mychel Thompson, who is with the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors; Seth Tarver, who plays for a team in Japan; and Bridgette Harper, chief of staff at Intersect Capital LLC — toured impacted sites last week and met with fire victims and first responders.
“He said it’s nothing like he’s ever seen before,” Klay Thompson said of Mychel. “He said people just had so many unfortunate stories about losing everything, their childhood home to the home their grandparents grew up in. I couldn’t imagine that. So I thought I’m in a very unique position to do something about it and raise so much awareness. It’s like my duty, almost.”
Thompson is learning along with the rest of us. Not all sports fans appreciate it when athletes use their position to advocate on political issues. But we can all agree their power to spur charitable giving in times of need is amazing.
“I think what Klay’s doing is fantastic,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said before Friday’s game. “It’s something he wouldn’t have thought of five years ago. He was a young kid just trying to make it in the league, and now he’s a grown man. He’s really contributing, obviously to the team, but to our community.”
Someone named Jennifer Cabalquinto has raised an estimated $4,643 through Klay’s PledgeIt page, and Michael Sexter has brought in more than $2,000. Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford pledged $100 per point. Thompson’s shoe company, Anta, says it will match anything the Warriors star donates.
“It’s bringing national visibility to the impact the fires have had on our North Bay community,” Redwood Credit Union president and CEO Brett Martinez told me in an email. “He’s helping to bring in money from outside the area, too, which will be necessary to support the large-scale fire relief and recovery needs of our community.”
Thompson’s commitment extended to the stands at Oracle. He is providing seven seats at each of the three home games to fire evacuees. The credit union has helped to locate recipients, and Pure Luxury Transportation is delivering them to and from Oakland.
Wednesday night’s Santa Rosa crew got to meet Thompson in the postgame locker room.
“A few kids, their school burned down, and their homes, unfortunately,” he said. “And they were just so stoked coming to the game. Put on some gear. They were really excited. Just for them to get away a little bit and enjoy a night out, that was a lot of fun.”
Thompson would have loved to see the smiles on the faces of Jonathan and Daniel Cruz as they watched the action from Section 210 on Friday night.
“It takes our mind off of it — well, for me it does,” Jonathan, 15 and a student at Roseland University Prep, told me. “Because all the stress. I don’t want to see my mom go through suffering things like that. … So I think it was a great idea to come to a basketball game.”
Jonathan and Daniel were there with their squirrelly kid brother, 6-year-old Angel. The Cruz family lived on Dogwood Drive in the Coffey Park neighborhood. You know where this is headed. Their house is gone, along with practically all of their possessions, which included a hefty amount of Warriors merchandise; they’re huge fans. Friday, Jonathan was wearing a Stephen Curry jersey his mom had bought him the day before. Both older brothers also sported sweet, black-on-black NBA Finals caps they had picked up at the game.
The whole family is currently living in the apartment of the boys’ aunt.
A couple of seats down from them were Scott Yates and his daughter, Josie. Scott briefly described to me their flight out of the Mark West Springs area on that searing Sunday night. Their drive through the firestorm was so harrowing that two of their three vehicles caught fire en route; one was abandoned to the flames. They lost an ark-ful of animals.
Against such a backdrop, a basketball game is both a frivolity and a beautiful oasis.
And what a game they got to see: an 18-point comeback by the Warriors, breakout performances by Omri Casspi and Kevon Looney, two free throws by Kevin Durant with nine seconds left to provide an inch of breathing room, two long-distance misses by the Wizards with nine ticks left and a 120-117 victory by the home team.
Oh, and Section 210 was a pretty good vantage point for Draymond Green’s wrestling match.
And Klay Thompson? He didn’t have a great game. He scored four of the Warriors’ first six points and hit a 3-pointer six seconds before the half. But he got into foul trouble in the third quarter and finished with 18 on 8-of-19 shooting.
With the immediate fire danger extinguished and the cleanup underway in Sonoma County, most of us are warily looking toward the future. And that includes me. Because on Sunday, Thompson capped off my final day of fandom with 29 points against the Pistons.
You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or email@example.com.