The Warriors’ Draymond Green and his ‘feeling of appreciation’
With Golden State back in the NBA Finals after two seasons away, the All-Star forward reflects on his career, the Olympics and the Warriors’ legacy
SAN FRANCISCO — Draymond Green was undoubtedly appreciative and ecstatic to advance to his sixth NBA Finals with the Golden State Warriors. What brought him more joy and helped him reminisce and put it all into perspective, however, was seeing the adulation of teammates who had made it for the first time just like he did in 2015.
“It’s happened multiple times for me now,” Green told Andscape after the Warriors’ practice on Monday. “You go through these moments, and you feel like you put all the work in to get through, and then you get to the moment, and the only two things I can think about once you get to the moment: No. 1, is the feeling of appreciation that I get for seeing guys that have not done it before. That first-time feeling, and just sitting there and watching them, and how they react, and how they smile, and how they appreciate that first-time feeling.
“You go through it, and you like, ‘Man, I got to feel that again.’ And the reality is you never feel it again. You go through it that first time, you never feel that way again. … And so, I think for me, I get to that space and then you just start to look around, and it just brings joy to see guys go through it for their first time.”
Green is a three-time champion, a four-time All-Star and the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year. Next up for Green and the Warriors are the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics, starting Thursday night in Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Finals at the Chase Center.
Green spoke to Andscape about his appreciation for being in the Finals, the Warriors’ legacy, sharing these moments with his 5-year-old basketball-loving son, D.J., why losing to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the play-in game last year was a dark moment for him, not missing the NBA bubble and much more.
When you were looking for the reaction of your teammates who made it to the NBA Finals for the first time, did anything in particular catch your eye?
Jordan Poole. [Nemanja] Bjelica. Just the gratitude that they have. [Jonathan] Kuminga. You see those guys, and it’s just like, ‘Wow, that’s what you’re doing it for.’ And then secondly, you get to that moment after all the work that you put in, and it’s getting the trophy, and you just can’t help but think about the journey. What did it take to get here? How did this happen? And so, for me, you go into it like: ‘Oh, man, I’m going to feel this way. I’m going to feel that way. I’m looking forward to this. I’m looking forward to that.’ … To have those guys experience what we’ve experienced numerous times. That’s where the joy comes from for me.
After we won our first championship [in 2015], my biggest fear — I think the first person I said it to was [late NBA.com reporter] Sekou Smith and [former NBA player] Rick Fox — is never experiencing that feeling again. Because you go through it, and you get there, and you finally get it done, and it’s the best feeling in the world. And then in your mind, the only way you can ever get that feeling back is to win it again, and do it again, but then you go win it again and you do it again, and you never get that feeling back.
But once you put yourself in the position to where you thought you would get that feeling back, it’s satisfying enough. I didn’t necessarily get that feeling that I got the first time, but I understand it now, and it’s satisfying, the feeling that I do get. The feeling of appreciation, the feeling of watching these guys for their first time, experience the highest pinnacle of basketball, and their appreciation for it.
Back in 2015, Stephen Curry used to come to the postgame media podium with his daughter, Riley. Now, you come to the postgame media podium with your 5-year-old son, D.J. Does he understand what is truly going on around him?
He just enjoys being around. He enjoys being around the game. He enjoys being around all of this. He enjoys coming to practice. He’s taking it all in. He tells me all the time, ‘I’m going to be a coach.’ This thing ain’t even about playing, he just loves being around the game.
He’s sitting out there drawing the plays. He drew up one today. Obviously, it’s not a play, but he draws it, and he watches [Warriors assistant coaches] Mike Brown, and ‘Q’ [Bruce Fraser], and Kenny [Atkinson], and [head coach] Steve [Kerr]. He watches those guys. He’s drawing plays, and he knows like, ‘All right, No. 30, Steph got the ball,’ and he circles him, right? And then he says, ‘All right, Daddy, he’s going to pass you the ball.’ And he draws these dots, and he’s like, ‘All right. He’s going to pass you the ball. You going to pass him back the ball. He going to pass it back to you, and you are going to dunk it.’ And that’s actually something he’s seen before. And they embrace him and show him.
He just enjoys being around, and so for me to share these moments with him, that’s priceless. And my biggest fear as a father, was always I never want to be that parent that forced basketball on my kid. I also never want to be the parent that’s like, ‘I’ve been this. I did this, now you got to do that.’ It’s like, ‘Nah. If you like basketball and that’s what you want to do, great. I’ll give you everything I got to help you be as great as you can be at it. And if coaching is what you want to do, then great. Then let’s put you in the best position to do that.’
But more importantly, these are things that he’s finding that he likes, and I think for me, that’s the biggest deal, is I just don’t want to force it on him, because the world thinks he should play basketball because of his name, and I play basketball. But he wants to be around. He gets mad at me when I come home from practice, and he didn’t get to go. ‘Daddy, you really went without me?’ He told me one day, ‘You didn’t take me. Everybody at the gym wants to see me.’ And I’m like, ‘They do like seeing you, but today I needed to really be locked in and focused.’ And just trying to explain to him the process. He doesn’t come much right now because it’s the playoffs, and I’m just trying to explain to him where my mind is in the process of getting ready for stuff.
Does he understand it? He understands that’s my process, but he doesn’t understand the why. But one day he will remember that, and when he remembers it, at that point in his life, he will then understand why. And I’m teaching him about proper preparation and all of these things. And so, I really just enjoy it, and having him around and all of those things, it’s an experience that I couldn’t buy, that no one can buy for their kid. But yet, it’s one for him where I don’t know what the value in it is yet, but I can imagine what the value in it is. Whether it’s basketball or whether it’s not, the value in seeing hard work on a daily basis and understanding how it goes, I think there’s value in that.
What are your thoughts on playing the Boston Celtics in the 2022 NBA Finals?
They’re a very good team. They have it on the offensive end, they have it on the defensive end. They have a culture that they believe in, which I think is extremely important, and they’re a hungry team. That’s a team that’s been to the conference finals what, four out of the last five years, or four out of the last six years, or something like that, and hadn’t been able to get over the hump, and now they’re over that hump. And that comes with a different confidence. For pretty much since January, that’s been the best team in our league, and what can we do to combat some of their strengths and not play into their hands, try to expose some of their weaknesses? I think for us, that’s what we have to figure out. …
But it’s really just understanding what their strengths are and how to exploit the weakness. They’re a great defensive team. Absolutely incredible. But they have defensive weaknesses, right? That’s with anybody. You can be as great of a defensive team as you want, at some point every great thing has a weakness, and so can we figure out what those weaknesses are? That’s the challenge, right?
How much do you appreciate being in the Finals after missing it and not even making the postseason the past two seasons?
I appreciate it a lot just dealing with the last two years. [Former Warriors guard] Shaun Livingston and [Warriors forward] Andre Iguodala would always tell us, ‘Y’all don’t know the real NBA. Y’all don’t know how it is in these organizations, y’all don’t know how it feels to lose.’ And so, to go through that made the game not fun at all, like losing like that every night. And so, just to be back in this position and enjoying playing basketball. I enjoy playing at this level because it brings out the best in you. You’re playing against the best, everybody in the world is watching, including your peers. And so, just to have that opportunity to showcase your talents in front of the world, knowing everybody is watching on this stage, like I have a much larger appreciation for it now than I did because it was kind of all I knew.
Did winning a gold medal in the Summer Olympics remind you of what winning a championship felt like?
One hundred percent. You go there, you play basketball, you’re talking junk amongst the guys. Our team wanted to do this. And I remember telling you guys at the Olympics, ‘We’re going to be in the championship, we’re going to be in the Finals and we’re going to win it.’ But getting back in that mindset of like playing winning basketball, and like competing at the highest level, I feel like the Olympics is always a different motivation coming out of there. You’re around the best players in the world, and then you go back to your [NBA] team and you have a chance to help that team grow and play well. It’s always, for me, like a booster.
Whether the Warriors win the 2022 NBA championship or not, what does going to six Finals since 2015 say about the franchise?
It just shows the continuity and the focus level that we have. But most importantly, the competitive spirit and nature that we have. When we set out on this journey eight years ago, I can’t say we expected this. But we did know that we had a young group, a young core and that if we can put it together, we can be good for a very long time. And see it actually come to a fruition, it’s special.
Why did you always believe during the last two down seasons that the Warriors could make it back to the Finals?
Because nobody had beat us. No one has ever beaten us whole. Ever. Has not happened yet. In 2016, I got suspended from a game [in the Finals]. In 2019, Kevin Durant goes down [during the Finals]. But then you follow that over to Cleveland, no one has ever beat us whole. So just say, ‘Oh, you’re done,’ but no one has proven that yet. So, even more so than my belief, there was no reason not to believe, because no one had done it. Still happened. I just didn’t believe that people had us figured out. We just had some unfortunate things happen. That happens. That happens to everybody. But I just didn’t think because of that we were done. Like I thought, ‘All right, we’ll get back out there, and we’ll be fine.’
Are the Warriors a legacy team now like the San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics?
Yeah, but we were that before this year. This didn’t change nothing. It just amplified it. But we were already that.
What was the darkest day over the last two years?
I think not making the playoffs last year. Because the bubble season, at that point I had already moved on mentally from that [2019-20] season. I was not tripping about not being in the bubble. I was with my family, it was incredible. But I think last year, really after losing that play-in to the Lakers, that was a dark day. … We’re competitors, so we didn’t come out and quit. They still had to take the game, but we lost to Memphis when we lost to the Lakers.
And that for me is like, that was a dark moment for me because I just didn’t think that [Lakers] team should’ve beat us. And they did. And then there was two years not in the playoffs. … Of course, I had some dark days in 2020, but we sucked so bad I just moved on from it. But last year I felt like if we got into the playoffs, we were going to beat Utah.
Could winning the 2022 NBA title mean more to you than the first one?
Everyone has their own journey. You appreciate the things for that journey, and the things that they brought. But I think this one will be louder. Everybody is saying we can’t, you’re done, blah blah blah. And so, it’s more so than what I did to Memphis fans [flipping them off].
You were a guy who was drafted in the second round, who came off the bench in summer league, so to think now that you’re viewed as a future Hall of Famer, you’ve had Defensive Player of the Year awards, All-Star, you’re going to your sixth Finals, and potentially win a fourth championship, what does that say? What can people learn from what you’ve done, after the odds being so low coming in?
No. 1, it’s about your beliefs, what you believe. Ultimately, you have people in positions of power that make these decisions. They’re guessing, too. They don’t know. They don’t have a formula that says, ‘Oh, this is the guy.’ They’re going off their brain, their experiences and what they think is going to go well. They don’t know. And I think the quicker you understand that, the better. Don’t dwell on anything they say too much. Hear what they say. Understand what you think it is that you need to improve and improve that. Because ultimately, what I’ve learned is people see certain things be successful, and they try to take that blueprint and copy it in this league. And ultimately, if you’re good enough at what you do, and you believe that, they’ll adjust to you because they really don’t know.
I feel like what people can learn is don’t be afraid of this persona that these people are just experts. No, they’re not. They study just like everybody else studies in their profession, and they go with what they think is the best decision. They’re wrong very often, and you got to understand that, and know that, and believe in yourself and the work that you put in, and live and stand on that. Not, ‘Oh, man, these people say such and such.’ No, go after what it is that you believe in, because ultimately, if you’re going to live the story that they write, good luck ever living your own, because the one thing that’s for certain, is I can guarantee you, they’re not writing the story that you have in your head for you. They’re writing a totally different script. So, if you want to follow that and just go off their script and forget your own, that’s on you. But I write my own scripts. Nobody going to write my script for me.