“We talking today?”
The clock on Chase Center’s Jumbotron reads 11:50 a.m. when Draymond Green walks off the court from a post-shootaround shooting session. It’s eight hours before the Golden State Warriors’ preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers, but he’s eager to speak.
Green’s mouth has gotten him in trouble lately, from commenting on Andrew Wiggins’s preseason vaccination status to accusing Golden State’s front office of mishandling the fallout of his public blowup with Kevin Durant. All of it is coming in the lead-up to the 2021-22 season, as the Warriors strive to rise from the doldrums of the NBA and recapture the magic of their dynastic run.
In recent years, with star teammates Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry injured, and Durant no longer in the team picture, Green has struggled to accept lowered expectations and his role. And as anyone familiar with Green knows, it’s only a matter of time before the 31-year-old feels the need to set the record straight. So he breezes through the corridor, toward the home locker room, and makes a sharp left at the end of the hallway, where two chairs are set up for an interview. After sitting for 30 seconds, he gets up, surmising that he doesn’t have enough privacy, and picks up his chair. “Come with me,” he directs, walking a short distance into a nearby stairwell and closing the door behind him. Now it’s time to speak his mind.
Green has played organized basketball since he was a child, making the sport his longest-standing love affair. It kept him off the streets of Saginaw, got him into Michigan State, made him an NBA champion, and put more money in his pocket than he ever dreamed. But the relationship took a turn in the 2019-20 season.
“I wasn’t interested in the game,” he admits.
Green’s interest in basketball piques only when there’s a chance to win, and by the fall of 2019, his attentiveness was waning. Over a six-month span, Durant left, Thompson tore his ACL, and Curry broke his hand, leaving Green to lead a team destined for irrelevancy. This was uncharted territory for the forward, who hadn’t lost more than 35 games in a season during his NBA career and had little time to prepare for the change.
“It was just a totally different situation that I was dealing with for the first time in my life on top of the abruptness of it,” he says. “You couldn’t have told me three months before that I would go from the best team ever to the fucking worst team in the NBA. It was frustrating. And it was also a mind-fuck.”
During Golden State’s championship runs, going 7-3 over a 10-game span was cause for panic. But with three of the NBA’s best 25 players not on the active roster, the Warriors never stood a chance on most nights.
“You’re walking in these arenas and four years you’ve been like, ‘We’re going to go win,’ and now you’re walking in and there’s actually no chance we win this game,” Green says. “Not only do you know you’re going to get your ass kicked, but the other team knows they’re going to kick your ass and they’re not even taking you seriously.”
With the postseason out of the question, Green rarely cared on the floor, to the chagrin of many of his coaches. But he did show up for a Christmas Day matchup against the Rockets, his archnemesis, scoring 20 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and dishing out three assists in a shocking 116-104 win. Green was so elated after the victory that in the locker room he belted, “I don’t give a fuck if we win another game this season!” Injuries lowered expectations for the season, but Green says they didn’t alter how he viewed his career.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it killed my pride because at the end of the day I knew that there was only one person in this league that can talk anything to me about anything basketball,” Green says. “And that’s LeBron. That was the only guy who could really talk shit about accomplishments or the game of basketball in this league.”
But with the roster made up mostly of fringe NBA players, the locker room dynamics became more difficult. During Golden State’s title run, veterans like David West, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston provided a buffer for Green’s propensity to prod. “We’d pull him to the side,” Livingston says. “And we have that credibility because of our tenure and what we’ve done in this league.” When he went off on a coach, they’d bring him back to center. When he got suspended, they forgave him. And when he became one of the league’s best defenders, they championed him. But by 2019, West and Livingston were out of the league, and Iguodala had been traded. Green was left to grapple with becoming a mentor for a younger roster, even if he wasn’t sure whether he had the tools to do it.
“There was no transition into that,” he says. “It was just like you’re still the little brother who sometimes may get mad and Shaun come slap me on the head. Andre come slap me on the head. But now it was no longer that. It was like all the little brothers are turning to you. And there’s really no one to talk to from a standpoint that truly understands what you’re going through, that can truly feel what you’re going through. It took a lot of adjusting.”
Curry would check in periodically, texting a variation of, “Keep your head up. You know this is not what we’re used to,” and, “It’s not going to be like this for long,” after losses. Thompson would tease, “Oh, you have to go through this? Ha!” But only wins could cure Green’s melancholy.
“He wasn’t happy because winning is everything for him, losing is misery, and he struggled on a personal level too,” says head coach Steve Kerr. “He didn’t have a great year. It was all tied together. That was a tough season.”
But an unlikely source would bring that love back.
One thought fluttered around in Green’s mind when he entered Techwood’s Studio C for TNT’s The Arena during the summer of 2020: Fuck Charles Barkley. Green was in the midtown Atlanta studio to condemn police brutality against Black folk alongside Cari Champion, Dwyane Wade, and Barkley, the guy who said he’d like to punch Green on live television.
“I’m not saying a fucking word to him,” Green said to himself, “I don’t like him and if we just have to come to blows, then we just got to come to blows.”
But for the moment, Green had to keep his cool. The appearance was an audition for a life outside of basketball: NBA talking head, a platform he hoped to use to, in his words, change how the league is covered.
“All these shows that you turn on, they’re about basketball, but they’re not really about basketball,” he says. “It bothers me when I can’t turn on a TV show and learn about the game of basketball. The only thing I can learn is that Ben Simmons don’t want to play for the 76ers.”
Periodically over the past two summers, Green has taken his crusade to television, filling in for select postseason telecasts on TNT’s Inside the NBA. During highlight packages he’ll point out defensive lapses, and in other segments he’ll run over to the video board to marvel at the execution of a side out-of-bounds play. He’s even interviewed other players. Green is among a growing contingent of athletes who believe the media isn’t telling a complete story.
“I think we live in a clickbait world, so you may see a seven-second clip that drives what narrative someone wants to push,” Green says. “And in today’s day and age, if you disagree with someone, you’re castrated, you’re the worst person on earth.”
Green recently got in hot water for commenting on Wiggins’s vaccination status, saying he didn’t want to feel obligated to tell a teammate what to do with their body. Months before that, he was criticized for lecturing WNBA players on how to market their game. Throughout his career, what Green says has been on television as much as his game.
“Good, bad, or indifferent, you have a fucking opinion about me,” Green says. “If you don’t know me, your opinion is probably along the lines of ‘loose cannon,’ ‘talks a lot,’ ‘demonstrative,’ ‘curse at refs,’ blah, blah, blah. ‘Cussed out a teammate,’ blah, blah, blah. Because in your mind, that’s what you want to see. So because that’s what you want to see, your view of me is already tainted. And that’s OK, I don’t care. Because the reality is, I think there are times where I say what everybody’s thinking and afraid to say.”
Green’s relationship with Turner, ironically, started after a conflict with Barkley. During a halftime segment of a Warriors postseason game in 2018, Barkley said he wished “somebody would punch” Green in the face. Less than a month later, following Game 6 of the 2018 Western Conference finals, Green joined the Inside crew on set in Oakland, and fit right in. Jokes were thrown, Barkley apologized, and the on-camera chemistry was so clear that Turner execs took notice.
“Draymond disagreed with Charles and he said it in an authentic way,” says Tara August, Turner’s senior VP overseeing talent relations. “That’s when we just started having conversations like, ‘Oh, well, should we get these two together.’”
Even though Barkley had apologized, Green’s grudge was still intact as he entered Studio C for the first time in the summer of 2020 for the Arena taping—until Barkley addressed him first.
What’s up, Dray! Barkley said. My man, great to have you on.
“Totally disarmed me!” Green says, still disappointed at how fast he caved.
Since then, the two have built a bond. When Green fumbles a line, Barkley is there with a constructive critique. And when the show wraps for the night, Green has an open invite to join Chuck at a local pub for late drinks and conversation.
“He’s one of the best people I’ve ever been around in my life,” Green says. “And it caught me so off guard, because it was the total opposite of what I was expecting.”
Along the way, Green and Barkley began to see what much of the viewing public already knew: They were two peas in a pod.
“I mean, whether either of them want to admit it, they’re a very similar personality type, and you don’t know if it’s going to work famously or it’s going to be detrimental,” August says. “It’s either going to be you’re too much alike so you can’t stand each other or you’re alike and you understand your perspectives, even if they’re different. And we were fortunate enough that it works, and I give Draymond so much credit for it.”
The timing of Green’s television ascent comes at a perfect time for Turner. Barkley, 58, has publicly stated that he plans to retire from television at 60. With his talent, popularity, and growing presence across Turner platforms, Green seems like a perfect replacement for his former nemesis, but Turner brass isn’t revealing its hand.
“There’s no replacement for Charles,” August says. “We’ve never said [Green] was a replacement; we say they’re very similar. And we want Draymond in our family, and we think it makes a lot of sense. Not as a replacement for Charles. There’s only one Charles Barkley in the world.”
Green also isn’t committing to any post-career plans just yet.
“I’m not sure,” he says. “I think there’s a world where I may do that; I think there’s a world where I could not. Who knows? I think I probably got another good six years or so left in me. Who knows what any of this looks like in six years.”
Hours after he called Durant out during a nationally televised game against the Clippers, Green, standing in the parking lot of a private airstrip at the Oakland Airport, told Kerr and Warriors general manager Bob Myers that he alone could fix his and KD’s fractured relationship. But the Warriors chose to suspend Green for one game, for conduct “detrimental to the team.” Durant left for Brooklyn eight months later.
Two years after Durant’s departure, Green felt it was time for a public reconciliation. In August, ahead of their reunion as teammates for Team USA, Green spoke to Durant in a sitdown interview for the Turner-produced show Chips.
“It’s kind of always that elephant in the room and you publicly saw our disagreement. Now you got to publicly see us speak about it,” he says. “It’s kind of the closure to a whole situation that’s never really been closed.”
During the 24-minute conversation, Green made his first public effort to make amends, talking to Durant about fatherhood, college coaches, and, most notably, their 2018 on-court argument. The former teammates both blamed the Warriors brass for not managing the situation properly, particularly Kerr and Myers.
“It wasn’t the argument, it was the way everybody … Steve Kerr acted like it didn’t happen, Bob Myers tried to discipline you and think that would put the mask over everything,” Durant told Green. Green told Durant that he “laughed in their face” when he was told he was going to be suspended.
Green may have thought it was time to air grievances, but that goal directly conflicted with Golden State’s urge to move on. The Warriors have been careful not to offend Durant, even after he left for Brooklyn in 2019. And the interview opened old wounds, adding to a pattern of tense moments between Green and the organization.
“You’ve got to be willing to take some shots when you’re coaching him,” Kerr said by phone in August, careful not to directly address the interview itself. “As long as you see the big picture and you can handle those shots, it’s going to be fine because Draymond is a winner at his core, and he’s smart. He’s smart as hell. You just deal with some of his outbursts and some of the shots he’s going to take.”
When the interview aired, Green says he didn’t expect much of a public outcry.
“I didn’t think that I’d wake up and see some talking heads on TV saying, ‘That’s not what happened,’” Green says. “Or, ‘Kevin didn’t really mean that. He’s just saying that because Draymond’s sitting there.’ This just further confirms what I already thought, which is people have this narrative that they want to push. And the moment that they can no longer really push their narrative, if that’s what their narrative is, they’re still going to push it.”
The uproar was familiar for many within Green’s orbit.
“I think some guys avoid controversy, some guys seek it. And he’s not an avoider,” says Tom Izzo, his coach at Michigan State. “Do I, once in a while, cringe when something’s said? Yeah, I do. But I think I know him well enough to know somewhere, there’s a reason for it.”
Those around Green expect him to get into it with teammates and coaches, and sometimes do questionable things. But the chaos Green causes comes with a silver lining.
“He’s loyal as hell,” Kerr says. “He always comes back around. You’re going to have some moments with him. Because he’s so emotional, but he always comes back around and his heart is pure. His intentions are pure.”
When asked about where he stands with Myers and Kerr, Green seems unbothered.
“I think my relationship with Bob and Steve is exactly what it was before the interview.”
As for his kinship with Durant?
“Our relationship has grown stronger,” Green says. “We spent a ton of time together, more time than we spent together since he was here. We won a gold medal together [at the Summer Olympics]. We drank a lot of wine together, kicked it together. And so I think due to all of those things, it’s stronger.”
Durant didn’t feel fully embraced by the Warriors for much of his time in Golden State, in large part because he wasn’t part of the original core who built the dynasty. Green pushes back on the notion.
“I think he don’t feel that way because of all the bullshit that goes on around this,” Green says. “But one thing I know for certain, Kevin has never felt and will never feel like any of us that took that floor with him, that helped build this shit, don’t feel like he was a part of this. Fuck that. Fuck out of here.”
Still, Green believes a full resolution between all parties will come with time.
“Sooner or later I’ll be done playing basketball, Kevin’s going to be done playing basketball, and Steve will be done coaching and Bob will be done as a general manager,” he says. “But all our lives will continue on. We’re all connected, no matter what.”
Periodically during the onset of Green’s career, then–Warriors assistant coach Pete Myers would remind the forward of two lifelong obligations. First: “You get paid to get the next young guy paid. You get paid to move out of the way, or you get paid to push the market up.” And second: “Leave this game in a better place than it was when you found it.”
Myers’s wisdom didn’t register with Green during his first few years. Before his first summer league practice, Green told Jeremy Tyler, a veteran tasked with showing him the ropes, that he was no longer Green’s vet because Green found out he was three months older than him. It was far from the last time that he had harsh words for a teammate.
“There’s a lot of different ways to cursing out somebody,” says Leandro Barbosa, Green’s former teammate and a current Warriors assistant. “But when he does curse you out he really gets aggressive. Not on the point that he’s going to fight you, but it makes you think that he doesn’t like you. But if you have a strong mindset, you’re going to get there and you’re going to play more. That’s when he gets you better.”
With younger contributors now up and down the Warriors’ roster, including two new lottery picks, Green has had to refine his approach. The cursing is still there, but it’s accompanied by reassurance. He’s invited Juan Toscano-Anderson to Cabo for vacation and dinner discussions with Maverick Carter, and talked to the 28-year-old about fatherhood, finances, and life. “I’ve been around a lot of OGs, a lot of people that are laced with game,” Toscano-Anderson says. “And that dude is very, very intelligent, and a very conscious being, and I really respect his opinion.” He’s also publicly praised Jordan Poole when the combo guard was demoted to the G League during his first two years, even though he occasionally had to tell his mentee to stop running Steph Curry’s plays when the real Steph Curry was on the floor.
“He’s big bro and I’m little bro,” Poole says. “Any chance that he gets to put somebody on game, he will.”
Of the young’uns in Golden State, big man James Wiseman has perhaps the best chance at being the best—and it’s Green’s job to make sure it happens. After Wiseman’s NBA debut in Brooklyn last year, when the rookie was overpowered by veteran big DeAndre Jordan, Green texted him clips with instructions on how to defend a lob threat like Jordan. In an April matchup against the Wizards, Wiseman’s first half consisted of getting pummeled in the paint by fellow 7-footer Robin Lopez. Incensed, Green tore into the rookie on the sideline. Following the verbal assault, Wiseman scored 10 of his 18 points in the second half, helping Golden State to an important win in their playoff push.
“I didn’t take it as, ‘All right, he’s talking bad. And I’m getting in my feelings,’” Wiseman said by phone last month. “I took it as a challenge. It’s like, ‘OK, I’m about to prove to him that I can do it.’ He came back to me and said, ‘Now that’s how you do it.’ He wanted to see me be the best I can be.”
The Warriors hope Wiseman, who turned 20 in March, will show major signs of progress in the coming months. Last season, he had moments, but also missteps. He missed a practice because he missed a mandatory COVID test. Critics said the Warriors should’ve drafted a player who could contribute right away, only to watch LaMelo Ball, picked right after Wiseman, win Rookie of the Year. By April, a knee injury had ended his rookie campaign (and may delay the start to his sophomore campaign). Entering his second season, Wiseman is well aware of the burden on his broad shoulders. During a recent post-practice workout, he let out a loud “Fuck!” after missing two straight jumpers, illustrating his urge to meet expectations.
“I went through a lot of growing pains,” Wiseman says. “There was a lot of pain that was out of my control and I feel like he helped me out a lot.”
When it comes to Wiseman, Green fancies himself an art dealer, buying in on the 20-year-old’s immense potential.
“For him, it’s like you could be blue-chip art. You could be a fucking blue-chip painting that somebody ended up purchasing and the value fucking explodes,” Green says. “James Wiseman market can explode like that, his career can explode like that because he has that potential.”
But overseeing the on-court maturation of Wiseman or any of the Warriors’ other young players takes a backseat to his quest for another title.
“He wakes up every day to win, every day,” Toscano-Anderson says. “Whenever we shoot around, or practice, and he’s talking like, ‘Man, we can’t get to that championship level until we take the steps necessary to get to that.’ And the vision is always championship.”
In the months leading up to the 2012-13 season, Curry was skeptical of the second-round pick whom everyone in the facility was calling the steal of the draft. At 24, Curry was entering his fourth season in a career that had seen more ankle surgeries than postseason appearances.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, honestly,” Curry said by phone in early October.
Sure, Green had had a successful college career, but Curry wanted to win now. The Warriors initially relied on David Lee, a 28-year-old All-Star, to help lead the offense. But they couldn’t keep Green off the floor. Two months into his rookie season, he made a game-winning bucket against LeBron James’s Miami Heat. A few weeks later, Green was assigned to guard Kobe Bryant. He was also fearless. “I’ve never seen somebody that confident coming in from day one and challenge the status quo like that,” Curry said.
Green came alive in the postseason. In a first-round matchup against the third-seeded Nuggets, Green averaged 7.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in 17 minutes, guarded every position defensively, and helped the Warriors win their first playoff series in seven years, making Curry a believer. “That was when I knew on a night-to-night basis, he could affect the locker room with his leadership,” Curry said. “He was playing night in and night out and started to affect winning on the court.”
During his first three years, Green was a Curry family wingman. He was even Curry’s part-time security guard during a Seahawks-Panthers NFL playoff game, throwing grapes at spectators who allegedly heckled the Curry clan. The camaraderie helped Golden State become one of the greatest teams of all time and even held things together during the team’s lowest moments, like the 2016 Finals, when Green’s antics led to his suspension and ultimately cost the Warriors the series. Reminiscing on the moment, Green praised his 2016 teammates for sticking with him.
“I didn’t feel that at all from nobody. Not from my teammates, not from the organization, not from Bob, not from Steve. I didn’t feel that from anybody. And so there was never even a thought of, man, this could possibly break us up. If anything, I think it made us way stronger. I guess that’s what things do, right? They take you out or they make you stronger. That’s the old cliché we use in this world. And if the cliché is real, it’s real, because I never felt anybody waver. And maybe that’s why we just kept moving like nothing ever happened.”
When asked about the fallout from 2016, Curry says Golden State’s bond, built over a half-decade, distinguished them from comparable teams of the past.
“We didn’t fall into this right away. It wasn’t like the Heat situation where they show up and it’s all ‘we have to win a championship,’” Curry says. “They had a personal relationship that they relied on. But they hadn’t played together. We had to grind and work for a couple of years to even have legit championship aspirations. There’s a little subtle difference there for us. So we can bounce back from something like that.”
Curry and Green’s relationship has evolved over the years. No longer the eager third wheel, Green has a family of his own now, which has meant less time to see each other off the court. In the offseason, Curry is almost exclusively in the Bay Area, while Green, now a husband and father of three, has migrated to Los Angeles, closer to his business interests. But Green says his bond with Curry is stronger than ever.
“I don’t have time to talk to Steph all the time,” Green admits. “But I still ride for him, even harder than I’d rode for him then. And I know he’ll ride for me even tougher than he would ride for me back then.”
These days, trips up the coast to watch football have been replaced by impromptu work dates on the road. On most nights between road games, an “Aye, you tryna get some food?” text will be sent, reservations will be placed and the two will eat, drink, and reminisce on the good ol’ days.
“We sit there and it’s like, ‘Man, you fucking remember when we went to dinner in 2015 because it felt like the world was caving in on us and we just needed to get out?’” Green says, referencing when the two went to Memphis’s Blues City Cafe after falling behind 2-1 in the 2015 Western Conference semifinals against the Grizzlies. “It brings that stuff back.”
But the duo also wants to make new memories. The Warriors may not be a contender at the moment, at least until Thompson returns to the lineup, but Curry won’t dare concede to anything less than another title.
“Draymond and I would not be playing basketball if that was not the goal,” Curry said. “He ain’t about nothing else. We all love to get paid. We all like vacations. We all like having fun, enjoying life. But none of us go through what we go through just be out here settling.”
Last season, Green and Curry provided a lifeline to the franchise, helping the Warriors win 39 games and come within a few seconds of a postseason berth. Curry had one of the best offensive outputs in league history, while Green regained his defensive prowess, returning to the NBA’s All-Defensive first team for the first time in four years. The stakes were back, so the effort followed, to the delight of his coach.
“I was really, really happy for him last year,” Kerr said. “I thought he was vintage Draymond.”
Now, with Thompson expected back in the fold by midseason, Curry has a message:
“A lot of teams could probably say if they were healthy, that it hasn’t been proven they can be beaten,” Curry says. “But with me, Klay, Draymond, when we’re available and healthy, we haven’t been beat in a playoff-type situation.”
“I will take 2016 out,” Curry reluctantly continues, “but that is a confidence that we have knowing that we’re older. There’s a reason we’re all together, still together, because that is still the belief. There are not many people who can say they know what it takes to win a championship.”
While Curry’s confidence is warranted, the NBA’s mountaintop is no longer located in the Bay Area. With LeBron in Los Angeles, Durant in Brooklyn, and Milwaukee defending the title, the Warriors are now the hunters, not the hunted.
“It’ll definitely be more challenging,” Green concedes. “There are no guarantees, but that’s the challenge, right? Can you fucking figure it out? I think we can. It’s just a matter of doing it.”
And with that, Green gets up from his seat, walks out of the stairwell, and back through the corridor leading to the locker room to prepare for the season. After a little more than an hour of speaking his piece, there are no more words to say, just actions to put to them.