Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green grew up two blocks away from what we’d now call the trap, where drugs, gang violence and everything that comes along with that takes place on a daily basis. It would be cliché to say basketball was his saving grace. In actuality, it was just a part of the puzzle. Raised by a tough and loving mother, Green embraced basketball early but it was the life lessons that turned him into a man that truly raised him to the next level.
“Saginaw can be difficult, [but] I think my mom and my family did a great job of keeping me on the right path,” he says of the Michigan town he was raised in. “There were a lot of guys in Saginaw that were much more talented than me that never made it because you can fall to the streets so quick.”
Older guys in the neighborhood, his family and peers at the Civitan Recreation Center, where Green played ball as a youngster, all believed that he would make it out, but it was his mother, Mary Babers-Green, who instilled in Draymond the values that made him the man he is today. As a young mother, she was tough on all of her kids; Green says she wouldn’t allow them to cry and she’d constantly tell them to stop being soft. “When they were younger I wouldn’t allow them to be Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan: You’re Draymond!” says Babers-Green. “I didn’t allow my kids to idolize people.”
To Mary, idolizing any other person would be following. Instead, she constantly beat into Draymond’s head that he was a leader and not a follower. “She didn’t let us back down to anybody and that mindset has stuck with me throughout my basketball career.” These lessons are one of the reasons that Warriors fans see Draymond routinely taking on the best frontcourt player of the opposing team.
As a kid, Green never truly understood his mom’s message, but it clicked for him as a freshman at Michigan State. At a time when freshman Spartans were to be seen and not heard, Green would speak up in meetings (even intense ones) so frequently that Coach Izzo began to direct questions at Green. From that point on, Draymond started to understand his knack for leadership, and by the end of the season he had become a key part of the team, earning Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year honors. The next year he was named captain of the team. By the time Green finished his four-year run in East Lansing, he would garner All-American and NABC National Player of the Year honors and earned a degree in communications.
Despite all those accolades, Green fell to the second round of the 2012 Draft, selected 35th overall by the Mark Jackson-led Golden State Warriors. In hindsight, Green was a steal.
Size, speed and athleticism critiques aside, there’s no denying Draymond’s basketball IQ. What he lacks physically he makes up for with a keen understanding of the game. In limited minutes he showed the smarts, toughness and tenacity that his mother inspired, Coach Izzo honed and Jackson encouraged, ultimately making Draymond one of Golden State’s most important guys off the bench, particularly on the defensive end.
Green had his coming-out party in last year’s Playoffs against the rival Clippers, filling in for an injured David Lee. He averaged nearly 12 points and 8.3 rebounds in a tough seven-game series, almost doubling up on his regular-season averages. Green had proven he could score and open up the floor for his teammates, yet when Steve Kerr was hired to replace Jackson, one of the first things he mentioned was he’d like to acquire a stretch 4.
“It was just another one of those moments where it was like, Aight, I gotta prove myself again,” Green says. “I’m used to it at this point. That’s gonna be me. I’m gonna have to prove myself over and over again.”
As he’s done his entire career, Green figured out how to beat the odds. This time he linked with former Spartan teammate Travis Walton, who created an intricate plan to get him ready for a new offense. The two would spend the entire summer working on Green’s three-point shot, floaters, getting the ball at the elbow and pick and pop.
The result has been an impressive, breakout season. After an 11-point, 13-rebound, 5-assist, 3-block performance in last night’s 117-91 win over the Thunder, Green is posting career-high averages in FG percentage (44.3), points (12.1), rebounds (8.3) and assists (3.7) for the 27-5 Warriors. If you would have told him two years ago that he’d be starting on the No. 1 team in the NBA standings, Draymond wouldn’t have believed you, but with his track record of proving others wrong, who could ever count him out?
Branden Peters is a SLAM contributor. Follow him on Twitter @BrandenLSK.