Ask Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr if All-Star forward Draymond Green is the key to making things work for the team this season, and he doesn’t hesitate. “Yes,” he responds immediately, “and I told him that, too. There’s going to be an adjustment, but Draymond is always going to be at the center of everything we do.”
In case you haven’t heard, the Warriors, coming off the best regular season in NBA history, signed four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant this past summer, providing even more firepower to an offense that already boasted two-time MVP Steph Curry and sweet-shooting two guard Klay Thompson. Green’s teammates are legitimate superstars, with the awards and offensive records to match, but he is a different sort of player entirely. He shot 39 percent from the three-point line last season, but Green’s true value is as a creator on the offensive side and a disruptor on defense. He’s an undersized center with an oversized motor—and the mouth to match. And even with Durant on board, that won’t change.
Green, 26, is the glue to the team, and he knows it. “That’s definitely a part of my role,” he says, dressed in a slim-fitting burgundy bomber, polo shirt, joggers, and black slip-ons at the Impact Hub, a hip cooperative workspace in downtown Oakland. “Making sure everything comes together; making sure nothing comes in between us.”
A second-round pick out of Michigan State in 2012, Green has rapidly risen through the Warriors ranks, ascending from bit player to bench mainstay to starter to All-Star. Over the last two seasons, he anchored the “Death Lineup,” along with Curry, Thompson, the since-departed Harrison Barnes, and 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. Together they were a fury of threes on offense and switches on defense that befuddled opposers to the tune of an NBA championship in the 2014–2015 season and a record-breaking 73 regular-season wins in the 2015–2016 season. But the Cleveland Cavaliers managed to solve the lineup during last year’s finals, coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to hand Golden State an unprecedented defeat.
For Green, the loss added insult to injury. He’s Golden State’s most vocal leader, and throughout last season, he was frequently criticized for his brash, unapologetic nature. In the playoffs, a number of flagrant fouls he committed prompted pundits and players alike to label him a “dirty player.”
But off the court, he’s nothing like his rep.
He has begun investing in affordable housing, both back home in Michigan and in the Bay Area. In 2015, he made a record $3.1 million donation to his alma mater, whose East Lansing, Michigan, campus will now feature the Draymond Green Strength and Conditioning Facility. “It’s kind of funny,” he says, “since I came into Michigan State probably 25 pounds overweight.”
Those extra pounds are gone now. But Green’s core, the drive that took him from the courts of his hometown Saginaw, Michigan, to the packed Oracle Arena, is still the same. He has made it so far already, but he’s not satisfied. Not even close.
Have you put last year’s shocking defeat in the Finals out of your mind?
I don’t think it will ever leave my mind. That’s a huge moment in your life and it will stick with you forever. However, I’m ready to go try to make that right, to win another championship. Obviously we weren’t able to finish it off. But the good thing about the NBA is you come back three months later and get a chance to go after it again. That’s my mindset: Win a championship this year. You can never put that behind you, but you do have to move past it.
What makes the Warriors so great is that you guys really grew up together as underdogs. It was “us against the world.” Does adding Durant change that?
It really is us against the world now. Everybody wants to see us lose so they can say, “Oh, KD, he’s weak for going there; I knew he couldn’t help them; they’re just a jump-shooting team.” Maybe we’re not underdogs anymore, but we’re definitely against the world. That’s fine. I’ve always had that approach anyway—if you ain’t with me, you’re against me.
Do you relish the chance to be a villain?
No, not really. My thing on the whole “villain” thing is that it’s what somebody wants to make you out to be. We’re going to always play with the mindset to go out there and destroy people. If people hate that, then so be it, but I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction to say that they made me the villain. They’re not going to make me anything; I’m going to make myself what I want to be.
“We’re going to always play with the mindset to go out and destroy people. If people hate that, then so be it.”
Have your goals shifted since you’ve been in the NBA?
My goals have definitely shifted. My first year, I just wanted to make the team. In my second year, I used to tell my Nike rep, “I think I’m going to figure this league out. I’m going to be an All-Star in this league.” He would always tell me, “Why not? Do it!” I’ve reached that goal now. My goal was to win a championship; I’ve reached that goal. I’ve always wanted to win an Olympic gold medal; I reached that. [Now,] I want to win multiple championships. The feeling of that one felt way too good to not experience again. Last season, I was second-team All-NBA; this year, I want to be first-team All-NBA, and I want to win Defensive Player of the Year. I never thought I could ever mention doing this, but I want to make the Hall of Fame. If I continue to get better and we continue to win, I think that’s possible. I am a very confident guy, but coming into the league you couldn’t have gotten me to say I’m going to be in the Hall of Fame.
How did growing up in Saginaw mold you into who you are?
Man, it pretty much made me who I am. From the person I am, the morals and values that I have, to the basketball court, who I am as a player. The intensity, the toughness, the IQ—all that stems from growing up in Saginaw. From my uncle teaching me the game and really making me learn how to play, to taking on the older guys at the Civitan Recreation Center or Vets Park. [They were] 10, 15 years older than me, some 20. They would just beat up on me. They would try to put me off the court. I remember getting hit in the head with a basketball because I wouldn’t get off the court. All types of stuff. It just builds that toughness, it builds character, and it makes you want it even more. It’s like, “Alright, I want to destroy these guys.” In order to do that, you have to continue to get better and better. Saginaw is where I got that hunger to just go get it.
Has the relationship between you and fans changed as you’ve gotten a higher profile?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that the relationship changed—some circumstances changed. When I used to go to the grocery store in Oakland, I could cruise through and get whatever groceries I wanted and be in there for however long I wanted. When I go to the grocery store in Oakland now, it’s tough to get two items in 20 minutes. I’m still going to talk to the same people I normally talk to—which is just about everybody. It’s just going to be a little more difficult.
Obviously, you’re in the position to do a lot of different things. What drew you to real estate and affordable housing?
Initially, I thought real estate was that you buy a house, you fix it up, and you sell it or rent it out. I thought people made some good money doing this stuff. As I continued to meet more people, continued to grow, stepped outside my comfort zone, I learned that real estate was a lot more than just buying a home and fixing it up. I love tangible things. I love being able to walk up to something and touch it and say, “I own this,” or “I’ve done something to help with this being here.” That’s a great feeling.
My mom used to get mad at me for giving my last dollar. I would always give my last dollar to someone else. My business manager, Danny, he was just telling me today, “You’re so generous, you have to stop that.” It’s a challenge for me, but to be able to help people out is one of the things that I truly enjoy about real estate. I can help someone while doing something I love.
“I never thought I could ever mention doing this, but I want to make the Hall of Fame.”
You have always been very outspoken in the locker room. Does that carry over to social issues?
Absolutely. I like to use my platform for things that I believe in. It’s just that simple for me. It’s funny because everybody always says, “You need to use your platform,” and then as soon as you do, they have something to say about it. If you believe in it, stand up for it. If you don’t, don’t do it because someone says you should.
You can use your fame to sell products, be in commercials, a lot of things. But when you use that voice for a greater purpose, people remind you you’re just an athlete.
When it’s not something they want you to say, they’re definitely quick to remind you that you’re just an athlete; you have to uphold the “athlete persona” or whatever they want to call it. But the way I look at it is this: If I have something to say, I’m going to say it. Nobody is going to stop me. Athletes, in anything we do, whatever the situation is, we have to be politically correct. But I walk outside and everything that is going on—it isn’t politically correct.
Do you see the impact that Colin Kaepernick has made on the political conversation carrying over to NBA players?
It’s important for everybody to have a voice and to be able to use their voice. And I think when you look at all sports, even at an elementary level, people are using those voices to be heard. Change needs to happen, and it will. I don’t think it’s going to happen today or tomorrow, but the process has been started.