Sir Charles Barkley’s apology for the Facegate scandal was appropriate. NBA analysts shouldn’t provoke the players who populate their industry—but Chuck’s response was also completely understandable from an onlooker’s point of view. Draymond Green has been berating refs, kicking gonads, and trash-talking opponents the minute he entered the league in 2012. The All-NBA, All-Defensive big man is the poster child for irreverence and shady basketball antics, resembling a modern-day Kevin Garnett—the godfather of unnecessary reactions and, as the NBA puts it, “overt gestures.”
Green’s preference for total disregard on the finer points of gamesmanship is often justified by two schools of thought: (a) that his actions are a mere byproduct of his extreme passion towards the game, or (b) that his IDGAF mentality represents the single-minded toughness that fuels the Golden State Warriors in their championship runs.
But these actions have already virtually cost the Dubs the championship—the iconic nutshot followed by Green’s suspension in the pivotal Game 5 against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 served to close the door on a repeat. The Warriors will no doubt remain as defiant as Green is in acknowledging the cost of his antics, but as of now, he already has one notch on his belt—a whipped elbow straight into San Antonio Spurs journeyman Davis Bertrans’ jaw. This brings Green closer to another potential suspension down the line, especially as the marquee (and most probably chippy) matchups against the Houston, Boston, or Cleveland peer over the horizon.
It's worth noting that Golden State is now towing a thinner line coming into the playoffs, with injuries to Patrick McCaw and Stephen Curry’s wonky MCL. Green’s failure to control his lack of empathy can spell vulnerability for the Dubs.
A man of passion
In many ways, his style of basketball is reminiscent of his temper. Green’s skills and opportunities on the court refuse to be defined by what traditionalists expect from a forward, much less a center. Green’s emotional rebellion is simply mirroring his own personal basketball rebellion.
Draymond entered the league in 2012 as a hybrid forward—standing at 6’7”, it was hard to see him as the lynchpin of anything. His lone outlier skill was his shooting—despite a less-than-respectable .209 3pt percentage, then-coach Mark Jackson saw something unique in the man that prompted a decent 13 minutes of usage. It was his ability to become a 3-and-D threat both outside and inside the paint.
Green had a more refined game that most peers of his size and built. Many expected Green to be more of a bruiser along the likes of DeJuan Blair, Mike Sweetney, and Kenneth Faried, or a one-dimensional scorer like Jeff Green, but he circumvented those expectations in lieu of a more team-centric mindset. Essentially acting as a stopgap for most of the Warriors’ defensive inefficiencies, Green slowly excelled at the smaller things—finding the open shooter and being at the right place at the right time in limited minutes.
In retrospect, it was hard to imagine that Green started out behind David Lee, Festus Ezeli, and Andrew Bogut, seeing as how his game is reminiscent of all of their best traits combined into one stocky, yet cerebral player. Despite being undersized and a middling draft pick, he continued to flip off expectations. And as Lee fell to injury, the Warriors finally saw something that the NBA hasn’t really before: a competent yet undersized playmaker who is now averaging 13 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, and two steals in the postseason, and has the defensive tools to guard all five positions on the floor.
Wait, we have seen this before. The closest was another undersized forward who led his team on both ends of the floor. A 6’4” hothead who also had a knack for foul-mouthing and controversial opinions: one Charles Barkley. Perhaps Chuck inadvertently proved his own case as a misunderstood and underappreciated player by ripping into Green and coming back full circle.
A man of toughness
In a radio podcast with former Warrior and none-too-shabby smacktalker Stephen Jackson, Colin Cowherd claims that Draymond resembles basketball in the ’90s—a physical, bruising, and often painful era of play that fell through in lieu of today’s pace and space.
This is perhaps a more endearing trait than most modern fans realize. Older fans hate the camaraderie between players today. Rivals share banana boats, hold pajama parties to steal players away from their vocal commitments (we’re looking at you DeAndre), and have regular meetings on which teams they will pick and converge on together.
The ’90s embodied pure competitiveness. Everyone on the floor hated Michael Jordan, and Jordan hated everyone else. Larry Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton have their own history of hustle and tustle. Closed fist punches were an inevitability of the playoffs. Green being associated with this is mostly a flattering thing: he would back down to nobody and would be physical if needed.
But the ’90s was also very much a knucklehead era. Drugs, gambling, less-than-humble parties, and mid-practice intoxications were at an all-time high (or at least, today’s NBA players are more discreet). The league has worked hard to make itself a respectable professional destination, and so far, it has worked—basketball has never been this PG-13. If it weren’t for this needed gentrification, the NBA wouldn’t be swimming in TV deals, international partnerships, and licensing agreements, and in turn the players wouldn’t be swimming in cash they may or may not even deserve. So, in a lot of ways, there is some good in leaving this rambunctious era behind in favor of a more universal game, and in some ways it isn’t completely necessary for Green to be jawing, elbowing, and knee-striking his way to the Finals.
Chris Webber recently mentioned that Green probably won’t start in a ’90s team. This is probably true. That era relied on strength and size rather than skill and shooting. It’s also true that there was nothing resembling today’s Warriors back in the ’90s. No team back then had three of the most prolific and versatile scorers in its starting lineup. Nobody needed an undersized point forward then because shooting and dynamic frontcourt playmaking wasn’t as necessary in the NBA’s winning formula as it is now.
Draymond Green is not only the poster child for the war against referees—he’s also the poster child of this decade’s style of basketball. This is why it doesn’t really matter what we think of when we see Green pound some hapless chum into the ground. The Warriors will back him up, and they will break a lot of hearts on their way to the 2018 NBA Finals.