On this week’s edition of Slate’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen, Adam Willis pondered the inner workings of (allegedly) carbon-based lifeform Klay Thompson. An adapted transcript of the audio recording is below, and you can listen to Willis’ essay by clicking on the player beneath this paragraph and fast-forwarding to the 53:14 mark.
A New Yorker profile from 2015 titled “Julio Jones, Aspiring Robot” highlighted the Atlanta Falcons receiver’s narrow precision and perfect repetition. Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson was nicknamed Megatron for his powerful stature and inhuman athleticism. Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale recently hypothesized that Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs doesn’t have to breathe and “bleeds antifreeze.”
While tongue in cheek, these comparisons constitute some of the highest praise in sports—reserved for elite competitors who operate with robotic efficiency. Like those other guys, Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors is known for his extraordinary precision. Fans of Thompson’s game like to joke about his automatonic qualities, his three-point shooting accuracy, and his lack of discernible emotion. His teammate Zaza Pachulia said, “I’ve seen him get emotional. Like, when he had 60 points? His tongue goes out, a little, maybe on the 50th point.” According to Warriors general manager Bob Myers, Thompson is “like the first Terminator, the one who doesn’t say anything.”
But many a true word hath been spoken in jest, and I have my suspicions that Thompson is a bona fide cyborg. The evidence is substantial. For one, Thompson looks almost inhumanly generic. The Ringer’s Jason Concepcion wrote recently that Thompson looks “like if an engineer from Prometheus, an Easter Island statue, and the NPR logo merged in a teleporter.” (I think he meant the PBS logo, which does look remarkably similar to the Warriors shooting guard.) “My guy looks like the laziest police sketch ever. Klay’s face is so blank that the image search of his video game face returns ‘Man,’ ” continued Concepcion. In other words, cyborg Thompson hasn’t been disguised in a particularly convincing human likeness.
While Stephen Curry is hailed for his accuracy from deep, his shooting form is erratic and unmistakably human. Thompson, on the other hand, shoots with textbook form, the same every time, and you get the sense that he could hit three-pointers with his eyes closed. ESPN’s Sports Science tested this idea. After shutting off the lights in the gym, Thompson went eight for 10 from three in total darkness. The only explanation? Sonar. Those vacant eyeballs are just placeholders in his head.
More evidence: After a 41-point performance against the Timberwolves earlier this season, Thompson credited his success to the weather. “The sunshine’s been so good to me,” he said. “Whenever I go outside it just puts me in a great mood.” That’s right—Thompson admitted that he is solar-powered.
And when a fan approached Thompson in March and asked him to sign a toaster oven, he stared at the contraption curiously, as if recognizing a long-lost relative.
A brief slip-up in a postgame interview last week is the most definitive piece of androidal evidence yet. After the Warriors beat the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, Thompson answered reporters’ questions as he always does, with all the personality of Amazon’s Alexa. That makes sense—if Thompson is indeed a robot, his verbal function will most likely consist of an endless loop of programmed banalities.
But as the questioning progressed, Thompson began to short-circuit. His eyes glazed over. His language failed. Sentences trailed off into silence, and he stammered like a glitchy computer game. You could see the pale green glow of his machinery fading behind those animatronic eyes.
What happened to our man/machine? Deadspin posited that Thompson’s autopilot system failed. But whatever the cause, he quickly recovered from the 404 error when a reporter tossed him a softball question.
The gears clicked back into place, his hard drive rebooted, his cyborg gaze refocused on the blank space before him, and Klay Thompson’s mission of intergalactic basketball domination was back online.