Chicago — Draymond Green didn’t take long to make an impression on the basketball world.
After two years of near anonymity to begin his career, Green has become one of the most unique and polarizing players in the NBA.
His story is well documented: Green emerged as an in-state talent from Saginaw, helped Michigan State to two Final Fours, was drafted by the Warriors, and pushed them to win an NBA championship in 2015.
Those are some of the peaks.
But Green’s true essence isn’t just about the peaks — it’s as much the valleys in between and the way he uses each mistake and slight as a steppingstone to ascend back to an apex.
The latest troughs have come in the past few weeks.
He was moving on from a assault charge following a scuffle in East Lansing last month — one was reduced when Green paid $560 in fines and restitution — before last week’s gaffe. Green admitted he mistakenly posted an explicit photo of his genitals on Snapchat, intending it to be a private message.
Both incidents come in the midst of another peak in Green’s career: making the U.S. national team that will compete at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro begining today.
Representing his country is the realization of a childhood dream — and just another phase in the up-and-down ride Green has experienced during his time in the spotlight.
“There are ups and downs in everything you do,” Green said last week during Team USA’s exhibition tour stop in Chicago. “Everything that’s happened for me has happened fast. There were a lot of people who didn’t know who I was.
“Now, I’m at the end of Year 4 and anything that happens, it spreads like wildfire. Anything that’s happened for me has happened fast and it’s forced me to adjust fast and learn fast.”
It’s been a steep learning curve in a short time for Green, who has had to embrace his new-found fame and all that comes with it. That’s a transition Michigan State coach Tom Izzo sees Green can adapt to quickly, but noted it’s not that his former player is well equipped to handle now.
“When there’s a mistake that’s made, his mistakes haven’t been destructive — not drugs and alcohol,” Izzo said, “I’m not trying to slight things. He’s in a different limelight now, so any move he makes is being talked about. He’s got to learn to deal with that — and that’s not easy to deal with.
“Does he still have to mature and grow? Hell, I still have to do that at my age, so I’m sure he does.”
For Green, donning the red, white and blue is as much an honor and impact on his life as it was with the green and white at Michigan State, where he is among the program’s icons.
“Being here is great and it’s obviously a blessing,” Green said. “I said all along that it’s something I didn’t expect at first. It was definitely a dream come true, but you also get to a point where you feel like you belong in that situation.”
Even at his pinnacle at Michigan State, when he was named national player of the year in 2012, he wasn’t selected until the second round (35th overall) of the NBA draft.
“It’s strange to think he was a second-round pick and how 34 teams passed on him,” said Klay Thompson, Green’s teammate with the Warriors and Team USA. “I’m not surprised he’s at the level he’s at because he works so hard and he’s so versatile. ...
“I saw it from Day 1 that he could be special.”
A step up
No LeBron James. No Steph Curry. No Kobe Bryant. No Russell Westbrook.
Green fits right into that next level of up-and-coming superstars.
And it showed before a practice at United Center, when he sat on the baseline laughing and joking with teammates DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan, garnering as much attention as the other Team USA stars.
Not bad for a second-round pick, who, at 6-foot-7, was deemed too small to play power forward and too slow to be a small forward. He struggled his rookie season, averaging 2.9 points and 3.3 rebounds, but boosted his stats his third year to 11.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
Last season, however, was his best, with 14 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.4 assists.
But despite the success he’s found — back-to-back NBA Finals appearances, one title, and now what is expected to be a gold medal — Green maintains a chip on his shoulder that keeps him from getting complacent.
From the naysayers who doubted him in Saginaw to the snub of not making the McDonald’s High School All-America team to the second-round slide — it’s all still on the front burner of his mind.
“All those things are fuel,” he said. “It’s one of those things that pushes you to prove everyone who didn’t think that you could do it wrong — and to destroy everybody they put before you.
“(The biggest slight) was everybody saying I’m too small to do this or too slow for this. Undersized — that’ll always be the one.”
Making a statement
In the past couple years, Green has gone from question mark to being an all-in-one antidote — a versatile big man who can play center in a small lineup, as well as score, rebound and handle the ball.
He’s a triple-double threat, especially at the core the improved Warriors lineup that added Durant during the offseason.
“Two years ago, people were wondering if I could make it in the league, even in last year’s draft,” Green said. “Not even a full year later, I’m watching the draft and everybody’s looking for that next Draymond Green.
“It’s weird, it’s funny, it’s unique; it’s a blessing. It’s a lot of things … When I hear that, I think about the journey.”
That journey picked up steam in East Lansing, when Green started to dabble in not just being a traditional forward, but handling the ball and becoming an all-around player. The epiphany wasn’t by design; Green worked at individual skills in order for Izzo to trust him with more.
“(Izzo) just let me play,” Green said. “He let me be who I was. It wasn’t about him saying he’d let me do things. If I worked on my game, he’d let me do it in a game. He really just let me play and do the things I can do.”
It wasn’t an easy transition for Izzo, though, who noted that even as a freshman, Green didn’t get the most playing time but usually was on the court during crunch time.
“What he’s done is taken himself as maybe the secondary guy at Saginaw High and at the time he came out, there were other people maybe getting more recognition,” Izzo said. “He worked his way — he’s done it the old-fashioned way — he got better each day and each year and understood a high basketball IQ is worth a lot.
“Because of that, he’s made himself into a hell of a player.”
All about winning
Even with all the slights, Green has found a level of comfort, especially after signing a five-year, $82 million deal with the Warriors before last season.
His importance was felt in the Finals last season, when he was suspended one game after hitting James in the groin area. Missing Game 5 was a turning point in the series, and Green was criticized for his mental lapse.
It was another low for Green in his career, but a learning point. He got a sense of how important he is to the Warriors — and his teammates learned the same value.
“You can measure it — it’s very important,” Thompson said. “You saw how important he was in the Finals when we missed him. He’s a great leader and even a leader on the Olympic team.”
The slights don’t last forever, though. Green sees he can’t rely on one particular snub or rebuff — every NBA superstar needs more than that to continue churning upward.
“You remember all those things, but as time goes on, you find different things to motivate you,” he said. “The fact that I was a second-round pick can’t motivate me my entire career. At some point, it becomes cliché.
“As time goes on, you reach certain goals, you get to different levels and you find different things to motivate you.”
Right now, Green is focused on his legacy.
It’s still early in his career, but never too early to start thinking ahead.
“My legacy is always to be a winner at the end of the day,” he said. “Since I started learning what the game of basketball is about and what you want to be remembered as, it’s just to be a winner.
“(Things like) ‘He’s a great shooter, scorer or very athletic or a great defender,’ — whatever it is on the court, I don’t care for that. I just want to be remembered as a winner.”
If Team USA — and Green — can live up to their billing as the heavy favorite, Green can check off the gold medal on his list of goals.
And he’ll still keep climbing.
On top of his game
Highlights of Draymond Green’s basketball career:
Class A state title, 2006-07
Class A state title, 2007-08
Final Four, 2008-09
Final Four, 2009-10
Big Ten titles, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2011-12
Big Ten tournament titles, 2011-12
NABC national player of the year, 2011-12
Golden State Warriors
NBA title, 2014-15
NBA Finals appearance, 2015-16
Rio Olympics, 2016