Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green, Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James share a rivalry and a friendship
From NBA Finals battles to Midwestern roots, they have connected through competition and common ground
SAN FRANCISCO – Draymond Green asked his boss for permission to miss part of a business trip so he could watch one of his good friends reach a major milestone.
The friend, LeBron James. The milestone, the NBA career points record.
With the Golden State Warriors fighting for their lives in the playoffs, coach Steve Kerr decided it was best for Green to be with the team the night before a game in Portland, Oregon, instead of going to Los Angeles to see James become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer on Feb. 7. Green understood and instead saluted his buddy on Twitter, calling James the greatest of all time with seven goat emojis.
“Yeah, I was definitely going,” Green told Andscape. “It was a TNT game. I was doing the broadcast and Steve said, ‘I don’t think that’ll be great for our team. While we’re flying out on the road, you’re flying to LA, guys see that, guys see you on the TV calling the game. This is a big game for us against Portland.’ I said, ‘All right, respect. No problem. I’ll be there with my team.’
“I flew to Portland, we got to get a win and we’re here. So, it definitely was something that I wanted to be present for. It was just such a big moment in life and friendship. But there will be other big moments and we’ll create great memories.”
There will be another big moment in the unique friendship of Green and James, as the Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers face each other in a second-round NBA playoff series starting Tuesday at Chase Center. The Warriors have won four NBA Finals since 2015 and lost two, including going 3-1 against James when he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. James and the Lakers defeated the Warriors in the play-in tournament in 2021. This Warriors-Lakers series will be the first between the two franchises since 1991 and first since James has been with the Lakers.
“We’ve played this game for so long and we have a great relationship that lies off the floor that people don’t want to understand,” James said. “And that’s OK, who cares. That doesn’t stop us from going out and competing at a high level and wanting the other to not be successful when we go up against each other.”
Green says he usually talks to James regularly, but has not since the playoffs have begun. The Western Conference’s seventh-seeded Lakers moved on to the second round after eliminating the Memphis Grizzlies on April 28. The sixth-seed Warriors advanced to the second round after eliminating the Sacramento Kings on Sunday.
“It is a special relationship and to have the opportunity to play against each other again … No. 1, this is the first time we’ve ever met before the Finals,” Green said. “So, that’ll be cool. It’ll be a different experience. But, to have the opportunity to compete against each other, all of our brothers, friends, will be there. You don’t get those times often. He’s in Year 20. I’m in Year 11. Steph’s [Curry] in Year, what, 14, 15? You don’t get these times often. So, appreciate and cherish them and take advantage of them.”
But when asked if James texted or talked to Green about their playoff matchup, Green said absolutely not.
“What’s there to start to talk about?” Green said. “… I don’t talk to people during the playoffs.”
“At that time, you want to take his head off. By the way, the 2023 series won’t be no different. We want to take his head off. That’s just the competitor in us.” — Draymond Green
It’s not uncommon for NBA players to have close friendships with rivals. Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell used to have dinner together the night before games. Magic Johnson attended Larry Bird’s jersey retirement ceremony with the Boston Celtics and wore a Celtics T-shirt. But after the 2016 NBA Finals, it seemed extremely unlikely that Green and James could ever end up becoming close friends.
The Warriors defeated James and the Cavaliers to win the 2015 NBA Finals, and Golden State took a 3-1 lead in the 2016 Finals over the Cavaliers. Green, however, was suspended for Game 5 after the league assessed him a flagrant foul 1 over a scuffle with James in Game 4. The NBA said Green “made unnecessary contact with a retaliatory swipe of his hand to the groin” of James after James walked over him during the game.
Green’s fourth flagrant foul point resulted in the automatic suspension. The Cavaliers defeated the Warriors without Green in Game 5 and won three consecutive games to capture the only title in franchise history.
“At that time, you want to take his head off,” Green said. “By the way, the 2023 series won’t be no different. We want to take his head off. That’s just the competitor in us. And at the end of the day, we’re both fighting for one common goal. ‘We’re on different teams, you’re in the way of that.’ And so, I think that’s always the mindset.
“But, during that moment it’s like, ‘f— him.’ You want to do all that you can to win the game. And so, that’s what it is. But, like I said, it’ll always be that when we’re competing against each other.”
Green added that he and James never discussed their incident from the 2016 NBA Finals.
“What’s there to talk about? We’ll have that conversation one day. And when we have it, I’ll make sure the world sees it,” Green said.
Green’s former manager Jacquail Jacox, now assistant director of basketball operations for Sports International Group, said the Warriors star wore James’ Nikes his first two seasons in the NBA but stopped as the two became competitive.
“Draymond wanted to be great and he knew by knocking off LeBron he could solidify his legacy. He also had guys around him at that time that weren’t big LeBron fans from a basketball standpoint,” Jacox said.
NBA agent and Klutch Sports Group founder Rich Paul recalled how his clients Green and James used to troll each with dueling T-shirts.
“In 2015, Draymond wore a T-shirt at the [championship] parade that said, ‘Ultimate Warrior,’ ” Paul recalled. “Then, 2016, James wore an ‘Ultimate Warrior’ T-shirt coming off the [Cavaliers’] plane. And then 2017, Draymond Green wore the ‘Quickie’ T-shirt.”
“It was a group of friends, but aside from that they [Green and James] built their own personal relationship where they talk about things on their own. I think it’s great. Society and sports want you to be gladiators all the time. But when you look at the best business guys in the world, it’s the total opposite.” — Rich Paul
Despite the old James-Green rivalry, Green had a positive relationship with Paul and Maverick Carter, CEO of LRMR Innovative Marketing & Branding and James’ long-term business confidant and friend. Green’s former financial adviser Daniel Sillman and Carter also had a business relationship. Green went on to work with Carter on James’ Uninterrupted digital media platform and landed an endorsement with Beats by Dre, which James invested in. Green also switched representation from Wasserman to Paul’s Klutch Sports in 2019.
Green said “being supertight” with Carter and Paul opened the door to the friendship with James. Paul believes Green and James built a “natural” friendship in 2017. Green was a guest on James’ co-hosted unscripted show The Shop in 2017 and 2018. They have been known to spend time together in Los Angeles in the offseason, including private dinners with expensive wines, according to sources. James also attended Green’s wedding in San Diego and both invested in Major League Pickleball in 2022. Green joined a proud James to watch his teenage son Bronny James play in the Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon, on April 11.
“There was always a respect on the court and respect as Black men,” Green said. “Then you have your core group of friends who are supertight with this guy. You kind of look under the hood and see what’s there. ‘Why is that?’ And just being in situations where we’re all together, you start to build a personal relationship. He’s my brother and I’m honored to have people like that in your corner.
“I don’t take it for granted one bit. And one of the most special things is we are competitors and when we see each other on the floor, we’re still trying to take each other’s head off. And I can appreciate that.”
Paul added that the Midwest ties for Green and James also helped build the bond between the two NBA stars. Green is a native of Saginaw, Michigan, and James is from Akron, Ohio. Both came from predominantly African American environments with their share of challenges.
“That Midwest component and energy, there is a connection there,” Paul told Andscape. “Not to mention, growing up watching each other play the game. We also had a lot of mutual friends, so we were traveling in the same circles. It just so happened that they started bumping heads in the Finals. But then off the floor, there are a lot of conversations are pretty much [similar] interests. There is this thing that people put out where people say that you compete on the court, but you can’t communicate off the court. And none of us really believe [that], so that engrained the relationship even more.
“And once you see that it is genuine, you can come by the crib and you can come by the crib. Let’s meet up. Now, once you get in between the four lines, it’s competitive. But outside of that it’s just us as friends pretty much hanging out. It was a group of friends, but aside from that they built their own personal relationship where they talk about things on their own. I think it’s great. Society and sports want you to be gladiators all the time. But when you look at the best business guys in the world, it’s the total opposite.”
James said when they aren’t playing each other, he and Green support each other on and off the floor.
“And our families are very close,” James said. “And when it comes to that, we don’t really care what nobody says about our relationship. I think it’s pretty stupid, honestly. But we’re fierce competitors and everyone knows that.”
Green agreed with Paul’s Midwest analogy. Green said he and James can relate to each other on a higher level in basketball and business.
“Midwest guys, we’re a lot alike, understanding how to have your brother’s back through no matter what it is,” Green said. “You go through this life and you lose friends, you lose family members, you lose people close to you and not many people truly understand what you’re going through. And I think having guys that you can turn that are superclose to you and doing some of the same things, you are able to lean and rely on those guys through tough moments in your life and the great moments of your life. You appreciate all of those moments.”
James averaged 22 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists in two games against the Warriors this season. Green expects that he and forward Andrew Wiggins will guard the four-time NBA MVP in this series.
“Guarding him, it’ll be a total team effort. I’m sure the matchups will be all over the place at times. And you just got to grit your teeth and get to it,” Green said about James.
Green has called James the greatest of all time on several occasions. But after Curry scored 50 points in the Warriors’ deciding Game 7 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, Green said, “GOAT alert, GOAT alert, GOAT alert” as the star guard walked to the postgame media podium.
So, who is Green’s GOAT? Curry or James?
“Well, Steph Curry’s definitely making the case to be the GOAT,” Green said. “But I just think when you look at LeBron’s body of work, the things that he’s done in this league, you start to look at the record books now, he’s right there at the top of every record known to man, playoffs and regular season. When you look at the longevity, some of the teams that he’s carried to the NBA Finals, through the NBA Finals, you just have to take your hat off to it.
“For a guy that they said is not a scorer to be the all-time leading scorer, that’s pretty impressive. If they’re saying that’s not the best thing that you do, but, yeah, you lead it? Scoring is what everyone talks about, every day. And yet, when people mention scorers, they never mention LeBron James. That’s the all-time leading scorer. I think that says a lot.”
Dave McMenamin contributed to this story.