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The Giant Killer: Draymond Green dares you to define him

There’s only one Draymond Green: a playmaking marksman who stifles 7-footers. But unheard of versatility is only the beginning of what he brings to the Warriors.

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Even after 73 wins and 82 million dollars, after the championship and the All-Star Game, after Steph Curry called him the voice and Steve Kerr called him the heart and nobody dared call him a tweener again, Draymond Green still sometimes sprints down the court on defense and hears a giant holler to the sideline: “Coach, post up!” The giant points down at Green, a head shorter, and raises a mitt on the left block. And just like that, everything Green has done throughout the day to quiet his soul—watching the WNBA on TV in his home atop the Berkeley Hills, playing dominos with his friends, eschewing coffee for water and hype music for J. Cole and Boyz II Men—flies out the window of Oracle Arena. The giant might as well have doused Green’s gold jersey in jet fuel and struck a match. “Are you f------ kidding me!” Green bellows, re-creating not one specific scene but hundreds of them. “You have to be joking right now! You cannot really be talking about me! You cannot! You think you’re stronger than me? You’re not. You think you’re going to bully me? You’re not. You think you’re going to score on me? You’re not.”

Green is suddenly transported to the Civitan Rec Center in Saginaw, Mich., once again the pudgy kid with the Ben Wallace Afro ignored by the older boys every time he chirped “Next!” He’d sit down in the middle of the court and scream, “Who do you think you are? I’m not leaving this floor for you!” Regulars alternated between sticking him in trash cans, rolling him in rugs, setting him on the rim and banishing him to the pool table. He hurled billiard balls at his tormentors. “There were grown men trying to fight me,” Green says, “and I fought them all.” He fought anybody who messed with him and anybody who messed with his more reserved older brother, Torrian. Every other day, it seemed, a manager named Tyrone Davis had to kick him out of Civitan. Draymond would occasionally leave with a busted nose, as well as a game ball, which he would boot over the nearest fence. “Those big boys eventually learned,” says his mother, Mary Babers-Green, “that my baby better get his next.”

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After Draymond cooled off he retreated across the street to his house, where Mary braided women’s hair, one of her three jobs. “He was like my assistant,” says Mary, who raised Draymond with his stepfather and her ex-husband, Raymond Green. “He always wanted to walk the ladies to their cars. He’d push his brother back and tell him, ‘Let me do it!’” Day Day, as friends and family called him, yearned to be a man. When he fought his way into the pickup games at Civitan, gang members sat in the bleachers and bet hundreds on him, awed by his toughness.

Green is 26 now—a 6' 7", 230-pound basketball revolutionary, arguably the best defender in the NBA and the best playmaker of his size—but everywhere he looks he still sees giants trying to toss him in trash cans. “This guy really thinks he has a mismatch!” Green tells himself, isolated on the block against the springy 7-footer. “He really thinks he’s going to destroy me!” Often he spews his stream-of-consciousness out loud. “Sometimes I say it to get myself going,” Green says. “I don’t do it to bother anybody. But if it bothers them, that’s cool, too. I don’t really care.” 

Unless you’re trying to back him down, he comes across as far more endearing than angry, the Warrior you’d most want to drink the proverbial beer with. His bravado is part of his brilliance, like the boxers he idolizes, from Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson. They could talk themselves into anything. Such was the power of their voices. When the post-up ends the way it so often does, the giant clumsily fumbling a drive or clanking a hook, Green flexes and stares. “I see his head drop,” Green says, “and I hear him talk to himself, ‘Come on, let’s go, what are you doing? This guy is so small! ” Green beams as he turns and stomps downcourt. Look who’s in the trash can now. Look who got next. “I feel in that moment like I took his spirit,” Green says. “And that’s an amazing feeling for me.” 

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Golden State has finished practice and most players have gone home, except Green, who stands at the middle of the court in his gray Roots sweats and relives his predraft workout on this very floor. The Warriors won the championship last season, won the most games in NBA history this season, and are back in the Western Conference finals, against the Thunder. Nobody cares anymore that Green was drafted 35th in 2012. “They had Jeff Taylor bring the ball up against me,” Green howls, recalling the former Vanderbilt swingman who was taken four picks ahead of Green and is already out of the league. “I took it from him every time!”

After the audition Warriors.com asked Green how he felt about the term tweener, which back then was still used to describe prospects considered too big for one position and too small for another. “I don’t mind,” Green replied. “It means I can do multiple things.” Then he left for his next workout in Oklahoma City, confident that he wouldn’t be back, that he didn’t belong in a place as sunny as California. Green remembers details about the draft that his own front office does not. He believed the Hawks would take him at No. 23, before general manager Rick Sund was replaced. He assumed the Grizzlies wanted him at 25, before Robert Pera bought the franchise from Michael Heisley. At least he could be sure the Bulls would snag him at 29. “They took Marquis Teague,” he sniffs. Even the Warriors tabbed Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli at 30 before finally coming to their senses five picks later. “We were too focused—the league was too focused—on positions,” Golden State GM Bob Myers says. “Who cares what position he played? He helped us learn—really, he helped everybody learn—the value of multiple positions.” 

The Warriors, building around the backcourt of Curry and Klay Thompson, were searching for oversized playmakers. They believed Green’s skill set would mesh. They weren’t as sure about his personality. A few days after Green lost his first preseason game in Denver, the Dubs practiced in Portland, and the brash rookie upbraided veterans David Lee and Jeremy Tyler: “I’m going to push you, David! I’m going to push you, Jeremy! If I cuss you out, don’t take it the wrong way: I’m pushing you!” His new teammates looked at him as if he were possessed. 

By NBA standards, the Warriors were a tranquil group, with key players who hailed from privileged backgrounds. Curry and Thompson, sons of pros, were raised in the suburbs of Charlotte and Orange County, respectively. “I felt so different,” Green says. His first coach at Longstreet Elementary School in Saginaw was his uncle Bennie Babers, whose approach may have been a little different from Dell Curry’s. “He’d chase us down and beat us up,” Green says. “He’d hit us like we were men—not in the face, but body shots. I needed it, too. I was a crybaby. I was a sore loser. I had a bad attitude.” There were days even Bennie couldn’t get through to Green. “Get your hat, get your coat and hit that door,” he used to say. 

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