OAKLAND–Put Roger Federer and Klay Thompson on a tennis court, and everyone knows the outcome would be brutal.
Pit the two athletes across from each other at a ping pong table, though, and Thompson apparently thinks he might be able to hold his own.
On Thursday, Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr said he invited Federer to speak in front of the team during Golden State’s recent trip to China, and that after Federer offered up words of encouragement, Thompson, the team’s reigning ping pong champion, asked Federer point-blank about his skills on the table.
“Klay won the players’ tournament and talked a lot of trash,” Kerr said. “He even said to Federer the other day, Federer was taking questions. I said, ‘Any of you guys have questions,’ and Klay goes, ‘Yeah, how’s your ping pong game?”
Federer is one of the most decorated tennis players in the sport’s history, and the current No. 2 player in the world. Even though it’s an entirely different sport, Kerr said Federer indicated his skills translated over to the smaller surface.
“Federer said his ping pong game is pretty nice and Klay said, ‘So is mine,’ so it felt like there was a little challenge there,” Kerr said.
On Friday morning, Federer got word of the story coming out publicly, and he decided to issue a challenge via Twitter to Thompson.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) October 13, 2017
Kerr said the meeting between Federer and the Warriors was rather serendipitous, but as soon as he found out Federer was in China at the same time as the team, Golden State officials were on the phone with Nike and attempting to link up with the eight-time Wimbledon champion.
“Like the other day, we had Roger Federer come into the locker room in Shanghai and it was amazing,” Kerr said. “We didn’t even know he was there until that day and we were lucky enough to arrange it through the Nike people. The next thing we know, he’s in our locker room. Like that’s the perfect thing to do as a team. We can’t plan for all that stuff. We can plan for some of it, so we’ve got some things on the horizon that we can do and just try to keep it as fresh as we can.”
Steve Kerr: “Federer said his ping pong game is pretty nice and Klay said, ‘So is mine.’ So it felt like there was a little challenge.” pic.twitter.com/VwcHRtrCOq
— Kerry Crowley (@KO_Crowley) October 13, 2017
Kerr said the Warriors are constantly attempting to bring different voices in to speak in front of the team, and he hopes Federer won’t be the only successful personality who speaks to Golden State this season. Even though the Warriors are focused on winning their third title in four seasons, Kerr isn’t restricting the guest list to current or former athletes.
“We do try to bring interesting people in whether it’s Roger Federer or Michael Lewis came in last year,” Kerr said. “I’ve talked to Malcolm Gladwell, I’d like to get him in front of our team at some point this year if we can make it happen. So anything like that is just fun because otherwise they’re listening to me all day for nine straight months.”
The fourth-year Warriors’ head coach is determined to give his players various ways to rest their minds over the course of a long NBA season that’s even longer this year due to an earlier start date. Kerr said team activities like group outings or bringing speakers in are part of a recipe to “fill your cup” or in other words, keep Golden State’s players energized and engaged.
“Last year, we just had a ping pong tournament just to get away from practice,” Kerr said. “This year, we’re going to go see a movie before the movie has premiered, we’re going to go do that as a group and have kind of a family day where guys can bring their kids and wives. Not going to share the details of what movie it is, but try to do stuff like that occasionally or just give them a day off and tell them to go do their own thing. Whatever it is we feel like they need.”