OAKLAND (AP) — For five months, Draymond Green has worked to block out the unrelenting criticism that his Game 5 suspension in the NBA Finals cost Golden State a repeat championship — punishment for a fateful swipe at LeBron James’ groin that swung the series for Cleveland.
It stings Green to this day that he couldn’t play, forced to watch from next door at an Oakland Athletics baseball game while his teammates fought for a title without him.
Still, if James ever steps over Green again like he did in a testy Game 4 , Golden State’s emotional, uncensored forward knows little will keep him from responding. Perhaps not with another grab for King James’ shorts , but certainly something to let the Cavaliers superstar know he will not be disrespected.
“With the LeBron situation in the Finals, no, I didn’t grow from that because I’m still never going to let someone just step over me. Now, did I learn about certain situations? Absolutely,” Green said during a recent interview with The Associated Press. “But to say somebody’s going to step over you and just walk over the top of your shoulder and you’re not going to react, I’m not perfect enough as a person to say I’m not going to react.”
Green is about as real as they come in big-time sports, and this season, his steady, versatile and unselfish game has allowed the Warriors to blend Kevin Durant right into the mix.
While a series of offseason incidents forced Green to take some accountability, the man who made it out of Saginaw, Michigan, will never feel the need to explain his on-court actions.
Green doesn’t expect fans to understand his in-game antics, “because I know they probably don’t have a passion about anything near as much as I care about this.”
Nor is he bothered by critiques of how he does his job — celebratory biceps flexing, trash-talking and all. Green’s fire is largely unmatched, he insists, so most people might never experience the same energy and love for anything that he has for hoops.
“When you look at the world, 90-some-odd percent of people are OK with mediocrity,” Green said. “I hate mediocrity. ... One thing I learned is I can’t expect them to understand how I felt about a certain thing or how I look at something, because they’re OK with being mediocre. And I am not. Mediocre bothers me, it hurts me to the core.”
That inner drive fuels him to deliver nightly, no matter who else is on the court with him.
Runner-up for NBA Defensive Player of the Year the past two seasons, he is making the timely plays — like tipping away the Bucks’ inbounds pass in Saturday’s 124-121 road victory when Milwaukee had a chance to tie it with 10 seconds left.
From Day 1 this season, NBA Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Green faced the most daunting adjustment with the addition of Durant. Instead, Green is doing it all, even if his scoring is down.
Not that he’s counting. Green isn’t gunning for triple-doubles, tracking his points or comparing shot totals with two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or KD. Green can play every position and still prides himself in doing the little things: crashing the boards, creating for teammates, setting the perfect screen, hitting the floor for a loose ball.
“That’s why he’s one of the best players on this team, because he can adjust to any situation,” guard Ian Clark said, “and he’s fine with it.”
In fact, Green’s teammates have been getting on him for passing up wide-open 3s.
“He doesn’t care about scoring. We want him to be more aggressive than what he is,” Durant said. “He’s more a glue guy than just a flat-out scorer. He can go and fill a stat sheet up in the scoring column, but he’d rather do everything else.”
The 26-year-old Green was a second-round draft pick taken 35th overall out of Michigan State in 2012, and he can name every player selected ahead of him, by what team and in exact order. That also motivates him.
An Olympic gold medalist for the U.S. alongside Durant and Thompson in Rio de Janeiro a few months ago, Green has had his share of forgettable off-court moments during that stretch, too. He’s willing to take scrutiny for that.
He was arrested in his college town of East Lansing in July on a charge of misdemeanor assault and battery. He has also gotten in trouble via Snapchat, on one occasion accidentally sharing a photo of his private parts, and in March posting a video of his speedometer at 118 mph — he later said he exhibited “poor judgment.” All that came after he apologized for his outburst at Kerr during halftime of a game at OKC in late February.
“Now, if you if want to say Draymond got arrested, this, that happened and you want to judge me off that, I can live with that because that is a mistake that I made. A true, honest something that I have grown from,” Green said. “Those are the things that happen in life. OK, if you want to judge me and say he’s a bad dude, I can live with that. Am I? I know I’m not, yet the way I look at that situation, I did give someone a reason to be able to say that. That’s something that I have to live with and it’s something I truly grew from. I wouldn’t change it for nothing in the world because it’s really something that has helped me grow more importantly as a person and as a man. Sometimes you need experience like that to grow. Will it happen again? No.”
Kerr is thrilled with Green’s growth, something the All-Star mentioned to management during the summer as a goal.
“Draymond has made a change since a year ago,” Kerr said Wednesday. “He’s backing it up. ... He’s kept his poise. He’s been one of the best players in the league night in and night out, and he’s doing it in a manner in which he’s kind of maintained his emotion but kept his edge. That’s the balance we were hoping he would find. He has to play with an edge.
If he loses that then he’s nowhere near the player that he is. He has to play with that chip on his shoulder.”
This is the same guy who gave away tickets to three underprivileged top students in the area to attend his team’s record-setting 73rd victory that broke the Chicago Bulls’ single-season wins record. Green is the guy who pushed the Warriors to chase the mark rather than resting down the stretch.
He is one of general manager Bob Myers’ favorites. And Kerr’s, even if they have their heated moments.
“I think he would tell you he needed to change. I think he has changed. We all change every day,” Myers said. “He kind of had all these things happen at once, whereas usually they’re spread out a little bit but maybe that’s what needed to happen. He would tell you he’s better for it. ... I’m the wrong person to ask. I have some blind spots for Draymond. I know that’s probably not the right answer. Give me all those guys — he cares, he’s genuine, he wants to be a better person. He loves his teammates. ... Draymond’s the type of person, 10, 15, 20 years from now, 30-40, I’ll remember my interactions with Draymond Green, and I’ll probably remember them in a very positive way.”
And, about kicking Oklahoma City center Steven Adams below the belt during the Western Conference Finals, Green said: “I know truly in my heart that I didn’t do it on purpose. ... I’m not going to let the world make me feel like I did something unruly, ungodly and completely just abomination.”
Through the soul searching, Green has realized everything he does now will get him noticed.
“You have to understand who you are,” he said. “You’re not the same person that you used to be. You’ve kind of placed yourself in a different category that what you do is scrutinized. You have to understand that and adjust to it. It catapulted me to where my life is. Things like that have shown me, this is where I am now. It all happened so fast for me. Two years ago I was a guy on the bench hoping to get minutes. Two years later, I’m an All-Star and Olympic gold medalist and NBA champion. Is that stuff I believed I could do? Absolutely. Is that stuff that I ever thought would happen? Absolutely not. So, you have to adjust to it. With that adjustment, I think anything in life is trial and error. I’ve had some error.”