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THE DRAYMOND COP-OUT: WHEN HUMAN “FLAWS” ARE USED AS A CRUTCH
For years, Green and the Warriors have cited his anger as essential to his success and their dynasty — now, after he slugged teammate Jordan Poole, his public self-cleansing comes off as choreographed
To be human is to be flawed, as you might have heard on “World Mental Health Day.” The observance happened to come Monday on our unhinged planet. Yet, I know of only one human who repeatedly is allowed to resume his career after periodic episodes of abhorrently flawed behavior.
His name is Draymond Green. He is the rare entitled beneficiary of life’s cherished double-standard, if only because he has utilized his very flaws to bully opponents and execute similar dirty work that helped the Golden State Warriors to four NBA championships, except the season he cost them a title by punching LeBron James in the King’s crown jewels. Last week, Green slugged a teammate with such force that Jordan Poole is lucky his skull didn’t crack open upon striking the wall behind him. If the punch had been thrown on 16th Street, outside Chase Center, Green would have been arrested and locked up by San Francisco police.
In any other workplace but one that involves pro sports, he’d be fired on the spot and blacklisted from his industry. But because Green’s violent acts fit the convenient context of organized athletic competition, he’ll face no long-term repercussions within his chosen profession. He has been given the equivalent of a child’s timeout, sent to his room by “mutual” agreement until next week, after enough days have passed for Bay Area fans and media to forget about his vicious, sickening haymaker and remember what’s really important in the social ecosystem: that 2021-22 trophy ceremony, where Green and Poole will receive rings with Steph Curry and the guys and, hey, maybe even hug it out while the crowd stands and applauds. Perhaps he’ll play that night against LeBron and the Lakers, perhaps he won’t, but life eventually will go on for Draymond as if nothing happened.
We know this because the Warriors have no immediate interest in trading or cutting Green, a punishment that would fit this and his other crimes. We know because Turner Sports, which employs Green as an analyst and has all but promised him Charles Barkley’s “Inside The NBA” loudmouth chair when he retires from the league, already has said his standing with the network is unaffected by the punch. We know because commissioner Adam Silver, who promptly should have condemned the incident, has said nothing publicly about it. At season’s end, if the Warriors have wisely chosen not to hand Green a lucrative contract extension, he’ll enter free agency and command a sizable deal from another franchise.
See, Draymond Green is too important for business. The Warriors think they need his leadership, if that’s what they call it, to win another title. TNT sees a 20-year career of big ratings and social-media-friendly bombast. The NBA knows he’s a lightning rod who drives traffic on all media platforms. So before you know it — when the weekly calendar is occupied by meaningful NFL and college games, the World Series and soccer’s World Cup — Green will slip back into the rotation and help his team to an early 12-2 start.
What you witnessed over the weekend, following the video leak of the practice poke to TMZ, was a choreographed response by Green and the Warriors. An organization that purports to operate on a higher intellectual and holistic plane — “light years ahead” of the competition, as owner Joe Lacob said — easily could have wiped its hands of Baby Dray after his latest and ugliest episode. Instead, they let him borrow their press-conference stage for a public self-cleansing. If this had been his first career mea culpa, it might have made laudable impact. As his fourth or fifth — I’ve lost track — it smacked of another Draymond-as-Ferris-Bueller trick/prank. I admire any athlete, from Michael Phelps to Simone Biles, who legitimately cites mental health struggles as part of a journey.
But we’ve been hearing for years, from the Warriors and Green himself, that his fiery emotional makeup is what drives him and the team to glory. Now, after he smacks Poole and the proof is available for mass viewing, Green suddenly has … mental health problems? Can’t have it both ways, folks. Either Draymond is a skilled basketball disruptor or he needs an intense daily couch visit. It’s an affront to those with diagnosed mental issues when sports people use it as an opportune crutch, if not an outright justification. You tell me if Green, who spends every summer victory parade getting drunk and flipping the bird at the world, finally is working on himself. Or, if his weekend explanation was just something he’s required to do before the next bird-flipping and ass-mooning.
“I’m a very flawed human being. I am a work in process,” Green said. “I personally know those flaws better than anyone. The work that I’ve done to correct those flaws, I think, has been tremendous. Yet there’s still a long way to go. … The day that this took place, I was in a very, very bad space mentally, dealing with some things in my personal life that I, quite frankly, (can’t say) that, that didn’t shorten your temper, change your reaction. I hurt someone because I was in a place of hurt.”
So, was he also in a “place of hurt” the night he nut-punched James and was suspended in the ill-fated 2016 Finals … and the night he called Kevin Durant “a bitch” during the in-game tantrum that led an all-world teammate to leave Golden State for Brooklyn … and the night he confronted coach Steve Kerr in an Oklahoma City locker room? At some point, allowing “Draymond to be Draymond” devolves into letting a jerk be a jerk because of a warped reliance on him as an outstanding defender and energy source. This is where we should be relieved that real life doesn’t mirror sports. This also is where we should be disgusted that sports has its own social rules.
“I failed as a leader,” Green said, “and, in turn, I failed as a man. … I have to take what comes with that. I have to deal with that and continue to better myself, as I will, and rebuild the trust and relationships in this locker room. Because, ultimately, that is what is most important to me.”
If he truly values relationships, why has he spent the better part of 10 years sabotaging his bonds with teammates and coaches? Only because Kerr and general manager Bob Myers have excused his temperamental fits was Green enabled to resume his rage, season after fraught season. Now that his fury has infected the team and invaded the sanctity of the sacred Golden State culture, he suddenly feels the need to address it? It seems so rehearsed, so phony.
“I have an issue with how to let my emotions out,” Green said. “Quite frankly, I like to keep my emotions in because I don’t like to give people the power over my emotions. And so you internalize them. I know I do. In saying that, it’s not something I want to change, because I like to keep my emotions to myself. But what I do want to change, and what I do need to work on, is how they end up coming out. And how do you let them out without them coming out in a way that, ultimately, you regret? And this is one that I sincerely regret.”
Does he? Truly? Then why, as he vowed to “work on myself” during his hiatus from the team, did he reject any need to seek anger management therapy? Isn’t it rather obvious that Green has anger issues? When he says otherwise, he’s in denial and not being honest with himself or us. “This is not an anger management issue,” he said. “I was in a very contentious space that morning, dealing with things very near and dear to me.”
Every day, millions of people around the world are in “a place of hurt” or “a very contentious place” for some reason or another. Few deal with the angst by throwing a punch at a workplace colleague. You’ve had your share of jerks at work. So have I — a fellow Chicago writer mocked me with a “cancer, cancer” chant in a press box as I dealt with the disease in my family; a sports editor claimed I was difficult to manage when he’d never been my boss or anything but a backup baseball writer; a TV panelist peppered me with an ethnic slur. Did I storm around and fire punches at them? No, you remain above the fray. “Be better,’’ as Myers is urging Green.
In sports, however, one is permitted to stoop into the gutter and not face long-standing ramifications. An apology is the only demand. “No. 1, I was wrong for my actions that took place on Wednesday. For that I have apologized to my team. I have apologized to Jordan,” Green said during a 38-minute news conference. “I wanted to take that a step further. With the event with the video leaking, there is a huge embarrassment that comes with that, not only for myself ... but the embarrassment that Jordan has to deal with and that this team has to deal with and this organization has to deal with, but also Jordan’s family. His family saw that video, his mother, his father saw that video. Quite frankly, if my mother saw that video, I know how my mother would feel.
“You know, you apologize with words. But ultimately your actions show your apologies. I will allow my actions to show my apology moving forward.”
How is that possible? If Draymond no longer has a feisty edge, a massive chip on his shoulder, how can he carry on as Draymond the asshole? All you need to know is that Myers, in his first public words after the punch, opened with this: “You know, Draymond is one of my favorite players.” That was his way of placating Green, and also his way of preserving one of many shrewd personnel calls that will push Myers into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame someday: drafting Green with the 35th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Anyone who watched Poole crumple to the floor didn’t care about Green’s favored status in the GM’s eyes. We wanted to know whether the Warriors were getting rid of him. They aren’t.
Kerr, too, showed his colors when he seemed more upset about a leaked tape than the punch. “This is why it’s so crucial to keep things in-house. I’ve been in this league for 30-plus years, I’ve seen all kinds of crazy stuff,” said Kerr, once punched by Michael Jordan in a famous practice story. “When things are kept internal, it’s almost easier to handle. It’s so much cleaner and smoother and you can move forward. As soon as things are leaked, now all hell breaks loose and it affects every single player and coach. Everything is out there, and we’re having to answer all of these questions and it puts everybody in a very difficult spot. It’s like if you had a camera in your family and there was a family dispute. Would you really want to discuss it with the world? No. Of course not. You want to handle it internally.”
Is Kerr really that far removed from the world in his hermetically sealed cocoon? If someone in a family hurls a punch with Green’s force within the walls of a home, yes, the public should know. Somehow, a very smart man thinks it’s wrong that Green’s rampage went public.
“For whatever reason, we’ve had leaks in this organization,” Kerr said. “This is not the first time. That needs to be cleaned up.”
It wouldn’t shock me if the tape was leaked by someone connected to team ownership. Think about it. Green is popular in the Bay Area, worthy of a statue in some warped eyes. Now that the horrific magnitude of his punch is a computer click away for millions, it will be easier for the Warriors to shed Green next summer as Poole and, eventually, 2022 Finals hero Andrew Wiggins receive lucrative extensions. After Poole delivered an outstanding performance Sunday night in his first post-punch preseason game — a team-high 25 points, 6 assists, 2 steals and 2 offensive rebounds in 23 minutes — Kerr’s comments were telling. “I mean, there’s a reason Jordan is where he is right now,” he said. “Especially when you consider where he was coming out of Michigan as a late first-round pick, and struggling in his first few months in the league. There’s a reason he’s in this position, about to sign a big extension hopefully.”
That would be a figurative elbow into Green’s grill. If you’re Lacob and you don’t want to pay obscene amounts in repeater taxes, are you really giving Green another $164.2 million when Curry and Klay Thompson will make almost $100 million combined next season, while the youthful likes of James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody wait for their rightful salary hikes? Give Poole, 23, his deserved $30 million a year. Pay Wiggins, too. Draymond is old, bitter and not worthy of more favors. Time after time, this franchise has tolerated and backed him. The Warriors are about to do it again, if only until June, unless he undercuts them in the interim, always possible.
“These inflection points, these moments, they can make or break a team,” Curry said. “My job is to not let it break.”
“He’s got some work to do to get that trust back from us,” said veteran Kevon Looney.
In another hint that Green’s words aren’t wholly sincere, he seems more upset the video was released than disturbed by his own actions. If he’s interested in addressing his sins, he shouldn’t want the truth to be publicly whitewashed. “I watched the video 15 times, maybe more,” he said. “Because when I watch the video I’m looking at the video and I’m like: ‘Yo, this looks awful. This looks even worse than I thought it was, it’s pathetic.’ And then I had to take a step back to it and realize this video was actually released this way to look that way.”
No, as a media guy, Green should grasp something about the inverted pyramid of journalism. You lead with the biggest news. The video editor led with the punch, appropriately. The leaker knew. TMZ knew. What, did Green actually think the tape would show him diving for a loose ball two minutes earlier?
Once, not long ago, I respected the Warriors as the best organization in sports. In a few weeks, when all is Kumbaya and Baby Dray is shouting down another official if not another teammate, I will hurl. And if you have the same proper perspective about sport, as it pertains to life, you will do the same.
Wouldn’t all of us, in our worst moments, like to cite mental health as a reason for the hiccup? About being in “a place of hurt” while “dealing with things very near and dear” to us? Everybody hurts, sometimes.
Only Draymond Green is excused, moment after hostile moment.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.