By Branden Peters #63
Although Draymond Green is not “the” guy on the Golden State Warriors team, he hardly plays second fiddle to anyone on the court. Playing a sport that features some of the most gifted athletes on the planet, the Saginaw, Michigan native has never been most athletic guy, the fastest guy or the biggest guy, but he’s almost always the guy with the most heart. And the most mouth.
The narrative of the kid from a single-parent home in “the hood makes good” by having a wicked jump shot is one that has been told ad nauseum since black men began excelling at professional basketball. Yes, Green was raised—along with little sister LaToya and big brother Torrian—by a strong God-fearing single mother (Mary Babers-Green and Draymond’s stepfather split when he was around 12 years old) and yes he grew up in an inner-city neighborhood that saw its fair share of criminal activity, but that is not the entire story.
That stereotypical snapshot of the inner-city baller is not a complete one in this instance. Annette Babers, an aunt who was also a superstar athlete at Michigan State and an uncle who coached him up until high school, also mentored Draymond. For everything her brother and sister did with Green on the court, Ms. Babers-Green held it down off the court raising three strong kids with discipline and love. It just so happens that one of them has grown into a world-champion NBA player who still maintains his moms tough edge.
For the millions who have watched in awe at the Warriors transformation from doormat to dominance, Draymond’s undeniable presence has been a mainstay. His trash talk is nonstop (coach Luke Walton says he can’t even repeat the top 10 wildest things he’s heard Green say in a game), what is ironic about Draymond is that despite his mentally and physically rugged on-court demeanor, he is all about having fun.
This was never as apparent as during his Championship parade interview that interpolated the hook from E-40’s hit song “Choices” and remixed it into a post-Finals diss of the Cleveland Cavaliers. That interview was the precursor to a Championship speech that featured Green joyously spraying the crowd gathered around Oakland’s Lake Merritt with bubbly.
When describing that day Draymond says “The way the whole Town (The Town is one of many of Oakland’s nicknames) and the Dub Nation came out to support us. It was incredible, I had never seen anything like that in my life.” Green was not alone in that feeling. Most of the estimated million people in attendance, had never experienced a celebration of that magnitude either. At least not for the Golden State Warriors.
The city of Oakland has always been primarily a blue-collar town that prides itself on winning. For example the city’s MLB team, the Oakland Athletics have won four World Series titles since moving to the city from Kansas City, MO in 1968. The transient NFL franchise, the Oakland Raiders have one AFL title and two Super Bowl wins as an Oakland based franchise. Since moving to Oakland, from San Francisco in 1971, the Golden State Warriors had one lone title that was won in 1975. And even that title was won at the Cow Palace in Daly City, CA, due to scheduling conflicts at the Warriors normal home, the Oakland Coliseum. Needless to say Bay Area hoops fans were salivating for consistent wins.
Forty years later, the Warriors would make history, winning the first title in most of their fan bases lifetimes, but it wouldn’t come easy.
After Game 3 of the 2015 Finals, it appeared as if Warriors faithful would have to wait another year for the title drought to end. From message boards to local sports talk radio fans and pundits doubted the Dubs resilience. They were too young, lacked size, didn’t know how to win in the playoffs. Yet the team itself never doubted. All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson even went as far as to promise a series win during the postgame press conference.
No one else on the team was bold enough to give Cleveland more bulletin board material but their confidence never waned.
“There is no chip coming off of my shoulder because at the end of the day you’re still going to continue to be doubted. People are gonna go at your head even more now so you gotta stay on your toes, continue to work and just grind. Its gonna be even tougher this year but I think we’ll be able to get it done.”
“We had been in that position already before against Memphis so we knew it was possible [to come back] and we knew we could do it,” says Green. “We felt we were the best team. We just had to go out and change some things. They were outworking us. Once we made up our mind as a team that we weren’t going to be outworked, we didn’t think they had a chance to beat us. Once we corrected that, the whole series changed for us.”
Through those first three games, most of the Warriors starters were playing poorly, including Green who was averaging 9.6 points on 20 percent shooting. He would redeem himself over the next three games, raising his energy and play. If not for his 16-point, 11-rebounds and 10-assist performance in a clinching game 6, the series would have surely gone the distance.
Even after a dominant 67-win season that is the League’s third best run since the inception of the three-point line (1979-80), the Warriors team still finds themselves in a position where they must exhibit confidence in the face of doubters. ESPN’s First Take co-host Stephen A. Smith claimed that Golden State needed the upcoming season to “validate and prove” their championship. Glenn “Doc” Rivers, coach of division rival Los Angeles Clippers eluded that the Warriors had luck in winning the championship, before backpedaling on his statement when he told Grantland, “look at Golden State. They didn’t have to play us or the Spurs. But that’s also a lesson for us: When you have a chance to close, you have to do it.”
Too late. Green filed that in his ever-expanding portfolio of doubters and haters. To disprove the critics, Green and Warriors started out the season perfect, with two of those 16 victories coming against Rivers’ Clippers.
Fans and critics have slept on Green’s game since he became a big name at Michigan State so the hate goes in one ear and out of the other. “It’ll be in the record books forever. A critic’s opinion lasts for a short amount of time, the [record] book lasts forever,” says Green in reference to the doubters and naysayers.
It would be hypocritical for Green to take trash talk personally, especially considering that he does so much of it on the court. If you follow Green’s mom on Twitter, you will know where he got his candor. Green’s talk has got the attention of several players from LeBron, who during Green’s rookie season said the nearly 6-7 forward was too little to guard him—to Lakers rookie Julius Randle who insulted Green’s defense in a preseason game.
The jabs coming Draymond’s way are par for the course, considering the success of the team and his over-the top in-game demeanor. Winning a championship automatically turns any team into the hunted. It is the manner in which the Warriors play the game that expands the target on their collective backs. Their tenacious defense and free-flowing offense, coupled with a confident attitude and youthful swagger has catapulted them to one of the most loved and hated teams in the NBA, balancing the rarity of being both David and Goliath simultaneously.
Despite the occasional outburst that earns him a technical foul, Green handles the darts with poise, often laughing them off. He’s genuinely doesn’t care about the statements or actions of people that have no bearing on his life. Chalk that thick skin up to a mom that wouldn’t allow her kids to dress up for Halloween or mimic other players on the court. By choice or force, Draymond always has and always will be Draymond.
The influence of Green’s outspoken mother, Mary Babers-Green has been well documented over the last three seasons. In addition to ma dukes, Draymond has also had another mentor—one with a couple championship rings—who is not as publically boisterous as Dray’s mom, in former Detroit Pistons player and president Joe Dumars.
Green met Dumars at an AAU game when he was a sophomore. Ever since then, Dumars has served the role as a father figure for Green, advising him on life matters as well as basketball.
“Every time I speak with him, every time I’m around him, he just gives me that sense, to keep pushing, keep working and continue to get better and most of all, enjoy it,” says Green. “He’s been a big help to me in my life [overall]. [I don’t know] where I’d be in my life without Joe D. He showed me that it was more to life than Saginaw. He really showed me the way and showed me it was possible. Joe D. is from a small town in Louisiana, just like I’m from a small town in Michigan. And he made it out and thrived to where he is where he is today and he showed me that was possible.”
The Warriors stretch four, has utilized Dumars life lessons throughout his championship run and his free-agency period but more so to navigate his newfound fame and everything that comes with it, especially considering it could be gone tomorrow.
“He just always tells me to focus and enjoy it because you never know when its gonna happen again,” says Green. “I’m just so thankful for him. It ain’t even about a championship run; it ain’t about a contract talk. It’s a bout life. I don’t know if any of this would be possible without him.”
The second-round pick with the undersized body for the power forward position and not enough athletic ability has gone from slept on bench player to one of the most popular players on the hottest team in the NBA with a hefty $82 million contract in tow—of which he says he hasn’t spent much of at all. Most guys who suddenly make more money than they had ever imaged, would typically go out and blow that newfound cheese on things that rapidly depreciate in value but Green is cut from a different clothe altogether.
A lot was made of Green living in a modest apartment in the Bay Area suburb Emeryville for his first three years in the League, and although he’s looking for a house in the Bay (which should please Warriors fans), he says he hasn’t bought anything big to this day.
That humble and practical personality trait that Green embodies on the floor could not be further from his on-court persona. He’s by far the most brash Warrior and would rank pretty high across the League. That type of bravado brings a lot of heat from opponents and opposing teams fans, but Green doesn’t seem to sweat it.
It would be incorrect to label Green as just a trash talker with tons of heart. He’s also one of the most intelligent players in the gym, whenever he steps on the court. His former coach Mark Jackson labeled him as a future coach very early on and the current coaching staff shares in that praise.
“The great thing about Draymond is his understanding of what we want as a staff and his understanding of basketball,” says interim head coach Walton. “He’s like one of those players that gives you an extra coach on the court.”
In practice, Green is also good for respectfully challenging his coaching staffs’ strategy.
“I think the way his brain works best is when he understands the why and the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do. Then it allows him the complete understanding and freedom to use that on the court to do what we want and help lead our guys.”
Green’s talk isn’t so much to get into the other teams head, as it is to fire himself and his teammates up. After all, his job in itself requires that he overcome odds, night in and night out, that kind of gig, takes a little extra. When giving up several inches and pounds to the likes of Anthony Davis (who Green calls one of his toughest assignments), Tim Duncan, Kevin Love and Zach Randolph, Green’s will and heart are what he says make up the difference.
“Are you going to back down to somebody? If not, you’re giving yourself a chance,” he says.
On the flip side, most power forward have a difficult time guarding Green on offense. What really makes Green stand apart from other stretch fours is his ability to put the ball on the floor. Green will many times receive the ball at the top of the three-point line after Stephen Curry gets doubled or trapped deep in the backcourt. This forces the opposing defense to react to a four-on-three halfcourt fastbreak, where he can shoot the three (almost 44 percent this season) but more importantly, he can take the ball in and make good decisions—namely a big like Andrew Bogut or Festus Ezeli rolling to the basket when the Warriors go big or one of the many shooters (Klay Thompson, .398; Harrison Barnes, .398; Andre Iguodala, .455; as a team, .410) on the floor when the team goes small.
And it’s all been by design. Coming into training camp this season, the Warriors coaching staff had plans to increase Green’s role on offense by using his facilitation skills—only Curry had more assists per game for the Warriors—and newfound post game.
Walton has always had a great relationship with Green as one of the younger guys on the coaching staff and he has high hopes for him in his second year as a full-time starter.
“He’s one of our best playmakers on this team and when we get him coming down in semi-transition and we have Steph and Klay on the wings, their guys don’t ever want to leave them and now he can get in the lane and we can run our offense actions that we would normally run when the balls in Steph’s hands,” says Walton. “I think that will add a whole ‘nother element to what we want to do. The way I envision it from my personal experience is like when I used to play with Lamar Odom and Lamar used to get that ball and turn from a power forward into a point guard and that’s what we see Draymond doing with that freedom and that opportunity this year.”
Green also worked on his post game and shooting over the offseason, which will undoubtedly come in handy when he and Curry run pick-and-roll. In the past teams have switched and allowed Steph to shoot over the bigger defender, but with Green working on his post game he will be able to punish smaller guards down low. Green has not shown many flashes of his back to the basket game thus far, conversely, if practice is any indication, this will become yet another weapon in the Warriors dominant offense.
“[The coaching staff] asked him to get a more efficient and effective post game during the offseason. He came back and it’s nice. I don’t know how it’ll translate over but it’s a 100 times better than it was last year,” says Walton. If Green’s year-over-year improvement is any indication, the aspects of his game that he worked on all summer—like a more consistent jump shot, post moves and better handle—will manifest on the court as they did last year with his floater and three point shot that became a potent part of the Warriors’ offense.
After a whirlwind ride that brought a championship, a new contract and nearly a defensive player of the year award, Green’s hunger hasn’t waned. The team has gone from the unlikely underdog to an elite force, but Draymond still wants more.
“There is no chip coming off of my shoulder because at the end of the day you’re still going to continue to be doubted. People are gonna go at your head even more now so you gotta stay on your toes, continue to work and just grind. Its gonna be even tougher this year but I think we’ll be able to get it done [again].”