CLEVELAND — For five days, Draymond Green did something so remarkable it can’t be overlooked: he stopped talking.
From the time that the NBA’s investigation into his Game 4 incident with LeBron James began on Saturday to the media mob scene at Golden State Warriors practice on Wednesday, the gregarious Golden State Warriors forward who used to watch Muhammad Ali interviews to admire his gift of gab went silent. No social media. No appearances on the “Uninterrupted” platform where he routinely shares his soul. No radio, television or print interviews.
But when he finally re-emerged, discussing these NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers and how his Game 5 suspension made this title defense so much tougher, it made his message all the more meaningful.
As mea culpas go, this was as good as it gets.
“I have to be better, and not put myself in the position to where it is a decision (for the NBA), where there is an investigation,” said Green, whose Warriors will try to finish this job again in Game 6 at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday. “I have to be better for my teammates, as a leader of this team. I can’t put myself in a position to where I can’t be there for my teammates on the floor. I do my teammates no justice in street clothes … I owe it to my teammates to come back and give all that I have, all that I can do to better this situation.
“I have strong belief that if I (played in) Game 5, we win. But I didn’t because I put myself in a situation where I wasn’t able to play. I think my teammates fought, didn’t play well, and still with six minutes to go were down six points. They continued to battle and battle. It’s on me to come out and help that battle (in Game 6).”
Regardless of how this series ends, those five days might go down as a key stretch in Green’s fascinating Warriors tenure. Not only did he own this moment rather than play the blame game, he also showed a great deal of respect for his Warriors bosses by heeding their advice to go dark. By hitting his own mute button, Green sent a subtle, selfless message that can only help the complicated relationship between him and this team.
All season, as the 26-year-old made the remarkable jump from pivotal player to bona fide All-Star, there was a concern within the organization that it was all too much too fast. The genius of the Warriors is in their balance, that “Strength In Numbers” creed that is both cheesy and true. Yet as their evolution has unfolded, with all involved trying to read the room and keep their championship chemistry intact, the combination of Green’s supersized personality and his sometimes-caustic ways presented quite the challenge.
The most public example of this came in Oklahoma City in late February, when he aimed his frustration at coach Steve Kerr during halftime of a loss and the profanity-laced tirade was reported in real-time by ESPN’s Lisa Salters. But there were different versions of the same story along the way, and always with one central question at hand: both on and off the floor, how much Draymond is too much Draymond?
He is the rare athlete whose special competitive spirit can lead to inspiration or implosion. The line between the two is a fine one, and neither Green nor the Warriors will ever try to tell you they know precisely where it is. His emotion, that fire that sparked this once-chubby kid from Saginaw, Mich. to reach these hoops heights, can help and hurt.
But as Green shared his raw view of what had transpired, from the Game 5 loss that he watched from an Oakland A’s suite next to Oracle Arena to the way he wants to handle his return, it felt as if he truly understood his rightful place in their unique puzzle.
“I learned a lot, as a basketball player, as a man (through this experience),” Green said. “You can’t put yourself in certain positions. One thing that I’ve already been kind of teaching myself and trying to learn how to do is control my emotions, so really just knowing the position that you’re in and adjusting to those positions. Not putting yourself in harm’s way, and really being a better teammate.
“The way I view it is that me not being on the floor to battle with my guys is me being a bad teammate. I take pride in being a good teammate … I put myself in a position to where I couldn’t be out there, and the way I view it, it’s awful. Terrible teammate. I take pride in being better. So if anything, being a great teammate at all costs.”
For the Warriors’ purposes on Thursday, the basketball part of that matters more than all the rest. Green at his worst changes his basketball stripes, occasionally searching for his shot like he’s Stephen Curry and playing in the kind of way that hinders their harmony.
It doesn’t happen often, though. And from the way Green sounded when he came out of the darkness, it’s not going to happen in Game 6.
“Not come out and try to be the superstar, try to be the hero, try to be the (savior),” Green said. “None of that stuff, because (him) being a superstar … hasn’t gotten us this far. Being a team has got us this far. So to come back and be a piece of that great team is what I owe to this team. That’s what I look forward to doing. We’ve got that opportunity. It’s a fun one. It’ll be tough.”