Draymond Green reflects on journey in Michigan State jersey retirement

Logan Murdock

EAST LANSING, Mich -- Draymond Green walked into Michigan State's Breslin Student Events Center under unusual circumstances. 

Usually known as a facilitator to the stars, he's prepping for a jersey retirement night reserved all for himself. As he took the microphone, the man with much to say was suddenly at a loss for words. 

"My dream was to play at Michigan State," he said, fighting back tears during a halftime ceremony Tuesday evening. "It was never to get my jersey retired and I lived that dream."

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For years, Green has taken on the role of underdog, from a forgotten place in the Midwest, using that chip to reach the NBA's highest platform. By Tuesday night, his alma mater gave yet another example for how he's come. 

Sixty-seven miles from Tuesday's festivities lays his birthplace. In the 19th century, Saginaw was a thriving center, with an economy built on lumber, leading to a population boom in the late 1800s. When the boom subsided, the automobile boom followed. At the height of the growth, General Motors had 12 plants in the city. 

By the time Green was born in 1990, much of that prosperity vanished. In a 10-year span, the population decreased by nearly 10,000, as the auto jobs disappeared, leading to urban blight throughout the area. 

To make ends meet, Green's mother, Mary, managed three jobs, including a hair salon from inside her home. As his mother worked, her son balled, with a dream to play on the hardwood he was honored on Tuesday evening. His aunt, Annette Babers, was a Spartan, averaging 8.3 points and 7.4 rebounds, ending her senior season blocking 36 shots, as Green looked on most nights from the stands.

The vision was 10 years later, when the "Flintstones", comprised of Flint natives Morris Peterson, Mateen Cleaves and Charlie Bell led Michigan State to a national title in 2000, giving the impoverished Green hope. 

"Growing up in Saginaw, you kind of got this little pocket of Flint and Saginaw where we're up north and you really don't get to Detroit often because you can't really afford to," Green said. "You don't get the Grand Rapids often, or nothing like that, if you really can't afford to.

"There's this kind of connection amongst those two cities. So to see those guys playing there, it just made that real for me."

However, the dream nearly went awry. Despite averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds his senior year at Saginaw High School, his college destination was primed more south. His coach, Lou Dawkins, played collegiately for Tubby Smith at the University of Tulsa, leading Smith to become a frequent visitor to Spartan open practices. Months later, Green -- without an offer from Spartan coach Tom Izzo -- was sold on the Wildcat program.  

"I had went down for a game," Green said. "That's when Joakim Noah was at Florida, and I went down for the game, Florida at Kentucky [ESPN's] College Gameday] was there. And I was just like, 'Yo, this is nuts.'

"It was Kentucky," he added. "I ain't get an offer from Michigan State, this is enough. I'd love to go here. And that's just what it was. I didn't have my number one choice, that's not a bad number two."

Eight months before Green signed his letter of intent, Smith resigned, taking the Minnesota Gophers job, re-opening the forward's recruitment, providing one last chance at his dream school.  

"I got a call from coach Izzo at like 7 o'clock the next morning," Green said last week. "He was cussing me out. ‘How could you commit to Kentucky?' I was like, ‘Dude, I didn't even have an offer from y'all.' He cussed me out some more. He was like, ‘Yes, the f--- you did. Here's your f---ing offer if you didn't think you had one.'"

[RELATED: Dubs video congratulates Draymond on MSU jersey retirement]

Once in Lansing, Green flourished, averaging 10.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 145 games, concluding his career as the school's all-time leading rebounder (1,096). Along the way, he built a reputation of unapologetically prying, cursing and grinding those around him as he perfected his craft, often at the expense of friendship.

"I took it so seriously," Green said. "I didn't have a bunch of friends. Even in the NBA, I don't have a ton of friends. It's different for me. If you don't got what I got as far as passion goes, as far as the hate for losing that I have, you would never understand it. 

"If you're passionate about this s--t, like I'm passionate about this s--t, we don't bump heads. That's just what it is. If you're not as passionate about this as I am, if you're not as passionate about winning as I am, we're going to bump heads and that's just a fact."

Countless examples back up Green's claim. Last season, Green cursed out teammate Kevin Durant, calling him out during a nationally televised game. Two seasons prior, he got into a heated argument with Warriors coach Steve Kerr during halftime of a matchup against the Thunder, one in which men had to be restrained.

However, his approach endeared him to the organization. 

"You'd rather reign people in than have to kick them," Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. "His force of nature, his personality and his competitiveness is something you cannot corral, but so what. Those are the people that are interesting, that you want to get to know, that you want to know more about -- that are unique.

"His desire is deep." 

Examples of Green's Warriors' lineage were littered around Lansing Tuesday evening. Myers, along with team chairman Joe Lacob, consultant and former teammate Zaza Pachulia and guard Klay Thompson boarded a flight from the Bay Area. Following a game in Atlanta, Kerr and guard D'Angelo Russell joined Green on a private jet to Michigan Monday night. 

Most notable of the travel party is Lacob. Following the most defining moment of Green's career -- when he was suspended for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals -- Lacob wore his jersey courtside at Oracle Arena. The relationship still goes beyond the court.

Last week, before a road game in Salt Lake City, the two had a three-hour impromptu lunch to catch up. 

"There's just a special bond," Lacob said. "I really can't even describe it with you. We're like brothers from different mothers. There's something about him. He's just someone you want to be a part of your organization." 

Green has returned the favor, signing a four-year, $100 million contract extension with the Warriors in August, even giving Lacob inspiration for a jersey retirement celebration for his prized player. 

"That's definitely going to happen," Lacob said Tuesday evening. "As I told him when we were discussing his contract extension, I only have one word to tell you: Statue. To him, that's the ultimate respect, and he knew what I meant.

"Stay with this organization and let's continue building."

As Green prepared to raise his jersey to the top of rafters, he felt a tug from his two-year old namesake, Draymond Jr., bringing to light a conundrum Green is currently facing: Attempting to cultivate a kid with a similar drive under different financial circumstances. 

[RELATED: Draymond gets emotional during MSU jersey retirement]

"I feel like a part of that is just showing him things like that and sharing that moment with him and my daughter," Green said. "They're starting to understand winning or losing, like 'that's a big win.' For them, all they've ever seen in their lives is us winning and so to them like losing really don't make sense.

"I worked my a-- off for them to live a life that I never lived, for them to never see or have the same struggles that I had in my life. That's what my life is about. That's what my grind is about it and to share those moments with them and just let them know, this is your moment.

"This ain't just about me."

As he reconciled his thoughts for the next generation of Greens, he reflected on the kid he used to be, in awe of the man he's become. 

"The book never ends like that," he said. "It just never ends like that. It's the storybook ending, but it never happens."

Draymond Green reflects on journey in Michigan State jersey retirement originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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