Tower of Babylon
Danny Green’s recent triumphs take place in San Antonio, but they trace back to a childhood in Long Island.
by Adam Figman / @afigman
SLAM: Tell me a little about your hometown.
Danny Green: I’m from North Babylon in Long Island, New York. Suffolk County. That’s where I was raised. I lived with my mother and father until I was 11 or 12—my mother had left when I was around that age, so my father raised me most of the time. But it’s a small town, not much going on, not many people make it out of there.
SLAM: How’d you initially get into basketball?
DG: From my father, he put the ball in my hands when I was like 2. I started playing organized ball when I was like 5. [North Babylon] is a small town, and in order for me to get recognition, I couldn’t stay there. I had to play AAU and I had to play throughout all different cities, all different boroughs. And throughout the years, playing with the city kids, I got more respect each year I’d come back, better each summer.
SLAM: So your dad taught you the game?
DG: Definitely. We had a court in the driveway, and that’s how I learned. That’s where it all started at: in the backyard, in the driveway, and of course local gyms. And he was a coach, so he coached me. In the town we had our own little league, and I played in those leagues, and as I got older I played in other leagues and other AAU teams.
SLAM: Was pops a tough coach?
DG: Yeah, he was. Usually fathers are harder on their sons than other people would be, but it made us grow faster—me and my brothers. And my brothers pushed me, too.
SLAM: Were you guys competitive with one another?
DG: It wasn’t friendly. Me and my brother are 10 months apart, so we grew up pretty close. Every day we played in the backyard, and he always wanted to beat me. We got into a lot of fights. We don’t play one-on-one that much now, but [back in the day] he always wanted to beat me and I would never let him beat me.
SLAM: What was your favorite team in those days?
DG: I used to like the Bulls growing up. I’m a big Michael Jordan fan, and he’s a good person to follow and watch—he’s probably the greatest that’s ever played.
SLAM: MJ was the guy who you tried to model your game after?
DG: He was one of them. A lot of other guys, though—I tried to take moves from everybody. Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury. You know Allen had the commercial with his crossover. Even Kobe. A bunch of different guys growing up. Jason Williams, from Sacramento, he was one of my favorites, too. The way he used to pass!
SLAM: Was there a specific place in your hometown that was always really important to you?
DG: There was a school that everybody would play at all the time, at nights and during the day. It was packed. They had a lot of pick-up games there. Kids don’t do it anymore, but we had a lot of battles there. Peter J. Brennan, that’s what it’s called. It’s one of the main schools in North Babylon on my side of town, and then of course there was Belmont Park—a lot of kids would play at Belmont Park. And over by Babylon Station there was another court over there. But Peter J. Brennan was the main one I remember—we had a lot of battles there.
SLAM: Why’d you go to UNC?
DG: Just the history and the tradition. I was always a Carolina fan when I was growing up. Michael Jordan went there. Once they started recruiting me it was [an easy decision] for me.
SLAM: You came off the bench at UNC for a few years as a do-everything guy. Did that help round out your game?
DG: Definitely, definitely. But that was always my game as a kid. I was never a one-dimensional guy; I was always able to block shots, play defense, get rebounds, or drive, or pass. My father made me grow up that way. He taught me to work on different things in my game and wanted me to be more than a one-dimensional player.
SLAM: While you were at UNC your father was in prison for 18 months. How tough was handling everything that was going on at home while still maintaining a steady life in college?
DG: It was very tough. It came to a point where I wanted to transfer. I wanted to get back home. I wasn’t playing as much, things off the court weren’t going well, and it wasn’t easy. But I stuck it out—my coaches, my teammates, they helped me stick it out. And I stayed there, and things turned out well for me.
SLAM: How close were you to transferring?
DG: Very close. Very, very close. As close as you can get without signing the papers. It was pretty much my decision, but everybody else wanted me to come back home. I was like, I’m gonna stay. But I was very close to leaving.
SLAM: Did it affect your play on the court?
DG: I wasn’t playing as much. That’s when everybody came—Ty [Lawson], Wayne [Ellington], Brandan Wright, all those guys came in—and we had all the seniors, too. So I wasn’t playing as much and I wasn’t playing as well, but it was motivation for the next year to come back and take somebody’s spot, which I didn’t—I was sixth man my junior year. But I came back with a different mentality, so that made me hungrier and more mentally tough.
SLAM: When the Cavs drafted you in the second round, was it a relief, or was it just, ‘I still have a long ways to go…’?
DG: Still had a lot more to go. Especially being second rough, it’s never a guarantee, you never know what’s gonna happen. The second rough is only the beginning.
SLAM: You were only in Cleveland for the one year, but was it a valuable experience?
DG: Definitely, I learned a lot. The guys I learned from on the team, I had some of the greatest in the world. Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James, and Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao. Every one of them I learned something from. It was a great group of guys, very animated. I had a lot of fun.
SLAM: When they released you, was there ever a feeling like the whole NBA thing just wasn’t going to work?
DG: There were definitely doubts. Once I was released, there weren’t many phone calls. The Spurs called me for a workout, and I went for a week, and then I didn’t know what was going to happen. It just didn’t look good. I was going to go overseas because the lockout was coming—nobody knew, or I didn’t know at least—so there were so many doubts. I just kept at it. My family did a great job supporting me and keeping me on track to achieving my goals.
SLAM: When you spent some time in the D-League, was there anything that really humbled you and made you realize how different it was from the NBA?
DG: Yeah, all of it. Alllll of it. The way you traveled, the way of living, it was all different. It was nowhere near NBA level, any of it. NBA level is first-class everything; D-League is…[laughs]. It was a good experience but not something you’d want to experience again.
SLAM: After the lockout, you’re signed with the Spurs for the ‘11-12 season, and then pretty quickly you’re starting, and the next thing you know you’re playing a huge role in the Playoffs. This must’ve all hit you pretty hard.
DG: [Laughs] It was tough. Everything happened so fast, like you said. Manu got hurt, then the next thing you know it was, ‘Oh, they’re looking for somebody to step up.’ And then they threw me in there, I got lucky, and the next thing you know I worked my way up from five minutes, to 10, to 13, to sometimes I’m playing at the end of the game. And I started to gain trust from Pop. Then the next thing you know I’m starting in the Western Conference Finals. It was just a lot happening faster than I expected. I enjoyed it. I had fun.
SLAM: Is there a moment that sticks out for you, where you looked around and thought, ‘Wow, I cannot believe this is happening?’
DG: All of it. Even the season, then the Playoffs, when we won the first round, and then the second round especially, when we beat the Clippers and I’m in the lineup at the end of the game. It was very surreal.
SLAM: How’s your relationship with Coach Popovich? I hear he’s pretty tough on the younger guys.
DG: He’s very tough, but he’s tough on everybody. I’d say me and Popovich have a great relationship. I’m pretty straightforward with everybody, and I like playing for him. He’s a very good coach, and he knows what he’s doing. He’s also one of the funniest coaches I’ve ever played for. He’s also very disciplined, and he knows what he wants. He tells you exactly what he wants you to do, and he gives you a lot of freedom.
SLAM: Don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone describe him as “funny” before.
DG: Yeah, he’s very sarcastic. It’s very funny to me. I always have a great time laughing with him or at him. That’s Pop. But at the same time he’s very strict and disciplined. He lets you have freedom as long as you play defense and do all the little things that you have to do.