By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
“Suddenly playing the charming bad guy was my thing.” – Ray Liotta
Every hero needs a villain, every conquest needs an adversary and every day needs a night with that ladies and gentlemen allow me to reintroduce Mr. Draymond Green. The basketball savant has mastered his role of villain and in the process proved that a Warrior’s valor can never be measured.
The Golden State Warriors are playing in their third straight NBA Finals because Green has been everything the jump shooting team needs, while being everything NBA fans want. A bad guy who oddly enough plays the game in its purest form. The forward has provided a villainous component with an authentic toughness that basketball lovers can’t help but to acknowledge, if not admire. A yeoman heart (along with an occasional kick to the man region) have led the Warriors to a 207 – 42 record with the volatile forward in the line-up. Golden State has experienced five straight winning seasons since the former Michigan State Spartan stepped in the Bay Area. This is in complete contrast to the three winning campaigns in the 20 seasons prior to his arrival.
On a team with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, it is Draymond’s leadership, grind and reconnaissance that have allowed this group to compete in a high powered Western Conference. Before anyone considers loathing the impact Green has on this franchise consider the circumstances in the four immediate years prior to his arrival. The 2008/2009 year saw the Bay Area team finish 29 – 53. The cornerstones of the franchise were deemed to be “prized” rookie Anthony Rudolph, along with Andris Biedrins and Anthony Morrow. The club was led by Stephen Jackson, Jamal Crawford, Monta Ellis, and Corey Maggette. Despite a plethora of ball handlers on the roster Golden State grabbed Davidson product Steph Curry in the 2009 NBA draft. The sharpshooter paid no dividends as the squad finished the 2009/2010 year 26 – 56.
The next two seasons Curry would play for two coaches and the team compiled a record of 59 – 89. Then along came Jerry West. The logo officially joined the group on May 20, 2011 and quickly played a major role in drafting Klay Thompson in the first round. After another losing year West then nabbed Green. The Big Ten Player of the Year and Michigan State all-time leading rebounder was an afterthought behind first round picks Harrison Barnes (7th overall) and Festus Ezeli (30th overall). The club’s final pick that year finished eighth in total minutes played, but the team finished with their first winning record (47 – 35) in four years. Some might say this was a mere coincidence and scoff at the premise of the Golden State forward being the straw that stirs the Warriors championship nectar. Those individuals only need to consider the words uttered by General Manager Bob Myers. When asked to describe what attracted him to the forward, Myers said “all he did (at Michigan State) was produce and win”. Five years, two All-Star game appearances and one NBA title later the Spartan and Warriors haven’t stopped winning.
Green’s skillset of winning comes at a price he is all too willing to pay with a reality check. It’s a work ethic that at times can be abrasive and can come in the form of technical fouls over highlight reel dunks. It is the grit work like leading the league in steals per game (2.0) or being second in total steals (154) total deflections (295) and deflections per game (3.9) that illustrate the forward’s effort. But gaudy defensive numbers, setting solid screens, denying ball, and boxing out can sometimes fail to resonate if not accompanied with dyed hair and wedding dresses.
While those numbers are what makes the second round pick great, what makes him special is virtually impossible to quantify. It is why Kevin Durant ran to get Green for the fist fight known as the NBA Finals. It is a fire that is only consistent in champions, a grind absent of praise and only appreciated with wins and titles. There is a line that many or not willing to cross in their pursuit of greatness. The Saginaw native willingly crossed that line and basketball fans are indebted to him for it. How entertaining would this NBA championship series be without the man who uttered, “I want to destroy Cleveland. No ifs and buts about it”?
The Golden State All-Star not only is embracing the challenge of LeBron, he is looking forward to making the game’s greatest player suffer. That is what we all came for, to watch the world’s greatest players compete at the highest level. If James and some of the other celebrated players throughout the league are what is right in world, than yes to that extent Green is what is wrong. Because the former All-American is willing to do whatever is necessary to win the battle at hand, and isn’t that why we are all entertained. The logo called Green a top 10 player, not because of a 40 inch vert or the sweetest of strokes, but because he plays the game the right way. Team owner Joe Lacob wore the star forward’s jersey during last year’s Finals and often refers to himself as the “Draymond Green of the business side” because he recognizes the value in the champion’s worth.
There is complexity in contradiction and Green contradicts everything that makes the NBA fun to watch with his lack of athleticism. Nevertheless, it is the complexity of the range of his emotions and the fury in which he attacks his opponent that have sports fans captivated. Pundits have wasted moments expressing what the forward does wrong, simply because it is easier than spending days expressing what he does right. Toronto Raptors All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan offered $100 to anyone who could stop LeBron James, who doubts Draymond would accept that challenge and tell DeRozan to keep the dough.
That mentality and commitment to winning is why we should all be thankful that these NBA Finals will feature the greatest player in the game pitted against the greatest competitor in the game.