OAKLAND, Calif. – Draymond Green had played five preseason games in the NBA, and still the 35th pick in the 2012 NBA draft had come to loathe the listlessness of a Golden State Warriors practice. Inside a gymnasium in Portland, Green targeted teammates – including high-earning veterans – and forcefully, loudly challenged everyone.
The older players were stunned, wondering, “Who the hell is this guy?” As one witness remembers, though: “The older guys weren’t happy, but they were definitely too scared to say anything back.”
Green’s message was unmistakable: You push me, I’ll push you.
The mandate was uncompromising: Winning matters now.
“I remember we were practicing soft,” Green told The Vertical. “We weren’t going hard. I’m a firm believer that if something needs to be said, step up and say it.
“Real is real.”
Three and half years later, Green is an All-Star, an $80 million man and a cornerstone of the defending NBA champions.
Real is still real.
As everyone else marveled over the Steph Curry Show on Saturday night in Oklahoma City, Green let loose with a halftime locker-room tirade that boomed into the corridors. People heard him, including a television reporter. Once the story had been reported on the live game telecast, it would take work for the Warriors and Green to make it go away.
If Green didn’t regret his message, he did regret his delivery – and the fallout. So before practice on Monday, Green connected with Golden State general manager Bob Myers. He told Myers that he was thinking about a public apology.
“I know you,” Myers said. “I can tell you want to say something.”
Green did – a public acknowledgement of his private apology to Golden State’s coaches and teammates.
“I felt like I was becoming a distraction to my team,” Green told The Vertical. “And I never want to be a distraction.”
Perhaps, someone had to raise the question: For all the genius of Curry’s historic scoring and shooting run, were the Warriors still fostering the proper identity? The Warriors had won a title moving the ball and constructed the best start in NBA history, yet Green’s uneasiness had been simmering. Whatever the verbiage in the outburst about his own shooting, everyone in the locker room understood this: Draymond Green wasn’t on a rampage to chase shots for himself, but balance for Golden State. The Warriors needed to beat Oklahoma City, not try to be like them.
From coach Steve Kerr to Myers to Green and everyone else here, the episode had been a constructive reminder on how a historic 54-5 record doesn’t preclude the need for constant communication and maintenance.
“Sometimes you need stuff like that to happen,” Kerr told The Vertical. “Phil Jackson used to purposely create some tension to get everyone’s emotions out. So then, you could just go out and play. There’s always stuff cropping up with players and coaches. And if you don’t communicate, then they’re going to simmer.”
This is how championship teams work through issues: Make the public discourse go away, and get in a room and talk through the issues. That’s how they come out of the drama for the better.
From a Warriors organization that for too long let discord spill into the public arena, let it devour the franchise, the Myers-Kerr regime – partnered with Curry’s and Green’s control of the locker room – has been brilliant in managing the message and minimizing the distractions.
In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City dustup, Kerr and Green were moved to talk one-on-one and perhaps the coach was right: sometimes you need stuff like that to happen. As the Thunder arrive at Oracle Arena on Thursday, Golden State is chasing an NBA record 44 straight victories at home. Without Curry, Green saved the streak on Tuesday night against Atlanta. They keep going, these Warriors. Golden State is the most relentless phenomenon in sports, and no one drives it harder than Draymond Green.
The Warriors give Green tremendous leeway, especially Myers and Kerr. Green and Kerr have had it out, the way coaches and players do. They go at it, come to an understanding and keep winning. “He has such a huge heart,” Kerr told The Vertical. “Draymond always comes back around. He might get sideways, but he always comes back around.”
In every way, he’s the perfect complement to Curry’s disposition. Green is the most unique NBA star to emerge in a decade. He was the Big Ten Player of the Year at Michigan State, but teams were unsure of a position for him in the NBA. As it turns out, he's a basketball player. He’s a throwback to the days when NBA players had genuine fear that an opponent – or a teammate – could beat them up. Fighting is no longer allowed – not in a game or at practice – but Green still finds a way to deliver an increasingly rare combination: intimidation and inspiration.
Nevertheless, Green has the introspectiveness to understand when he has pushed too far – and understands one of the most important tenets of leadership: It comes with tremendous responsibility.
“I had to apologize to my teammates, not because I said something but because of the way that I went about saying something,” Green told The Vertical. “It was wrong. And so, the fact that I had apologized to my teammates already, apologized to my coaching staff already – and yet everybody was still trying to make a big deal out of it. They were trying to make it a distraction for what we have going here. I knew it was time to shut it down. It was time to let them know, ‘Hey, it’s settled.’
“So I apologized.”
The Warriors never pushed Green to make the public statement. They let Green come to his own conclusions, let him measure the impact that the public disclosure had on the Warriors – and maybe more importantly, could still have on them. Golden State’s the biggest story in basketball, and, yes, finding a crack in this Camelot promised to be a sexy storyline. Only, there are no Camelots in basketball. Not here, not San Antonio. Not anywhere. This is the NBA, and there are issues. Who fools themselves, and who deals with them?
“Some conversations are harder than others, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have them,” Myers told The Vertical. “This is a part of life in the NBA: It’s competitive. It’s emotional. It’s cutthroat. It’s ruthless. If you care, you’re going to have moments your emotions get the best of you.
“But give me all the guys who care too much.”
This is the problem for the reeling Thunder on Thursday, the problem for the NBA. Whatever the tension inside, the Warriors eventually make sure they’re channeled the proper way: onto the rest of the league.
“We’re a close enough group that if something happens, it stays between us,” Green told The Vertical. “Nothing much happens anyway. We enjoy being around each other. You’ve got a little brother, you’re going to get into it. What happens on a team – that’s what happens in life. That’s what happens in a family. We trust each other enough, love each other enough to say, ‘Let’s go bust them up, let’s go take this out on someone else.’ ”
More coverage from The Vertical: