OAKLAND (AP) — Draymond Green pounds his chest with his right fist and roars toward the rafters after big plays, mouth agape.
Jason Richardson loves every second of it, thrilled to see such emotion from a player he knows beat long odds to reach basketball’s highest level.
Richardson takes great pride in Green’s challenging road to stardom with the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, because he took an almost identical route: From Saginaw, Michigan, to Michigan State to Golden State. Green wears No. 23 primarily for Richardson — Michael Jordan, too — and has been motivated by their parallel career courses.
“That’s a big honor,” Richardson said. “It’s eerie scary the career path we both had, from Saginaw to Michigan State to Golden State. When I found out at Michigan State he was wearing the number mostly because of me, it was an honor, especially being from Saginaw where there’s not many role models or guys to look up to.”
The Warriors honored Richardson on Nov. 24, the same night they beat the Lakers to set an NBA record for the best start in league history at 16-0. It was Green’s bobblehead night to boot.
Richardson spent his first six seasons with Golden State and was part of the 2007 “We Believe” Warriors team that reached the second round of the playoffs after ending a 12-year drought. He got traded to Charlotte after that season.
Green appreciated Richardson being there for the special milestone in person, sitting courtside with his son next to Golden State owner Joe Lacob.
“That was huge for me,” Green said. “Obviously J-Rich is from Saginaw, Michigan State Spartan and Golden State Warrior. It’s the path I’ve taken. For him to be here on a night we make history, and more importantly for him to be honored, is amazing for me to see it. I’m thankful and blessed I could be a part of it because he’s meant a lot to me and my life kind of coming up behind him and making it out of the city of Saginaw.”
Green keeps overcoming all the doubters, dating back to his early days in Saginaw and those who weren’t sure what position he might play in the NBA. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo calls Richardson and Green “two great guys, two self-made guys.”
Green is backing up that big-money deal he signed over the summer — $82 million for five years — and had consecutive triple-doubles in back-to-back nights last Friday and Saturday, at Phoenix and home against Sacramento. Green became the first Warriors player to do so in two straight games since Wilt Chamberlain in 1964.
“He got a huge contract this summer and he came back a better player,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “He’s playing at an All-Star level right now.”
Selected 35th overall by Golden State in the second round of the 2012 draft, Green emerged as the Warriors’ starting power forward last season when David Lee injured his left hamstring in the final preseason game. He kept the job, too, averaging 11.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists and regularly defending the top opposing player to finish second in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year vote.
He is scoring 12.7 points this season and pulling down a team-leading 8.5 rebounds.
“He does it all,” reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry said. “He defends at a high level, he’s so versatile the way that he can guard multiple positions. And offensively a huge outlet to have, for me especially in traffic situations to get the flow of the offense going. Like everybody else in this locker room, he’s a gamer. He’s a guy that shows up every night.”
Green’s contributions during the playoffs complementing Curry were a big reason Golden State captured its first championship in 40 years. He averaged 13.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists and had a triple-double in the Game 6 NBA Finals clincher at Cleveland.
Richardson has kept tabs on Green’s career from high school to now, when he has become arguably Golden State’s second-most important player behind Curry.
“I think Draymond shocked everybody besides himself,” Richardson said, noting their humble starts. “It means everything for us. It’s a city where not a lot of guys make it out of there. There’s a lot of violence and not a lot of opportunity. To see another person make it out of Saginaw doing well — not doing well, doing great — it’s an unbelievable experience. That just shows how, one, he’s a winner, his attitude as a leader and his work ethic to be in a position he’s in. It’s hard to describe what he does, because he does everything right. I’m just proud of him.”
In September, Green returned to East Lansing and made a $3.1 million donation to the athletic department to help the men’s basketball program that did so much for him. To this day, Izzo credits Richardson and Mateen Cleaves for keeping everybody close.
“I love that about our whole program,” Izzo said. “I keep saying that and nobody believes me but it’s special here, it’s just different. They’re back all the time.”
Green also insists Richardson helped show the next generation in Saginaw there is a positive way out — and Green is doing his share in that effort.
“You know, giving younger guys like myself hope that if he can do it, I can,” Green said. “For him to be here was kind of fitting for me.”