When the San Antonio Spurs met the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals last year, it was being billed as the battle of the Big Threes. The Heat suited up their defending championship nucleus of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Spurs dressed their veterans with multiple championship rings: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker. But many of the biggest threes in the series came from Danny Green, the rapidly rising star shooting guard for the Spurs. With 27 three-pointers, Green set a new NBA Finals record. “Because we play on the Spurs, we don’t get a lot of media attention,” Green says. “But when you play well on the biggest stage in the world, people begin to notice.”
Though a championship barely eluded the Spurs grasp last season, the team is back at work in their businesslike fashion working on getting back to the Finals once again. Green will be a big part of that drive. And at times, it’s even hard for him to fathom how he went from sitting home on his couch completely out of the NBA to playing in tandem with one of the greatest cores of talent in NBA history. “Timing is everything,” Green says.
The fortuitous timing in Green’s life began during high school. Green was seriously considering going to University of Connecticut when they signed another player at his position. Coach Roy Williams of North Carolina came to the Green household to meet the family and it became an easy decision. “I was a fan growing up. My dad watched their games. They had great alumni. Coach Williams laid out in great detail what campus life would be like. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I always advise kids to go away to school. You have to become independent. You have to learn to live on your own as a young adult.”
After his junior year, Green didn’t sign with an agent, but applied for the NBA Draft. “I wanted to test the waters,” he said. “Get my name out there a little bit.” Instead, Green decided to stay for his senior season and helped lead the Tar Heels to a National Championship.
From there, the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him in the second round of the 2009 Draft. “I had great teammates in Cleveland—LeBron, Shaq, Mo Williams. I really enjoyed my time there.” The following season, Green was released by the Cavaliers and given a workout and a brief sting with the Spurs. But after the Spurs released him, Green was at a crossroads. “My agent talked to me about going overseas to play. I wanted to give the NBA one more true shot.”
Green signed with Sioux Falls of the NBA Developmental League. From there, he was traded to the Reno franchise. “It was a humbling experience,” he says. After playing well in the D-League, Green got the call to come back to the Spurs, getting the coaches’ attention by playing tough defense at the end of games. Then, as timing would have it, the NBA lockout arrived.
“I was still playing on a rookie contract, so I went overseas to play in Slovenia and try to stay in shape and earn some money. It was tough—completely different weather, different travel. It was also a humbling experience. When I came back to the Spurs when the lockout was over, I want from being the 12th man back down to the 15th man.”
That’s when timing intervened again and Spurs guard Manu Ginobli broke his hand and would be out for an extended period. Again, Green would enter the end of games to play defense. “I think the coaches noticed me when I was picking up Ricky Rubio full court on defense,” Green remembers. “Then we played Golden State both Monta Ellis and Steph Curry were scoring a lot, so I got to play again. Then I would get 10 minutes. Then 15. Suddenly, I was starting to get bigger minutes.”
Not only was Green getting more minutes, he was getting a Masters Degree in NBA life from his head coach, Gregg Popovich, and the extraordinarily stable nucleus of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli.
“At first it can be tough as a rookie,” Green says. “There’s always someone you looked up to as a kid in your locker room, and there’s always someone in the other locker room as well. I had a Tim Duncan jersey when I was a kid; now I’m playing alongside him. But you settle in, and the guys are great at making you feel like part of the team and being part of the system. Everyone moves the ball. Everyone touches the ball. It’s a very European style of play. It all starts with Pop (Gregg Popovich). He emphasizes doing everything the right way.”
The guidance and structure allowed Green’s talents to shine. So when it was his number that was called in the NBA Finals, he was ready to perform. Not every player is so fortunate. “If a guy gets on a younger team,” Green says, “there may not be that veteran leadership keeping everyone in line. It’s really easy for a guy to get lost. It can make or break a career.”
Over the summer, while Green has been preparing for the upcoming season, he took some time out to host his fourth annual basketball camp in Long Island NY. “It gives the kids a chance to meet someone that is playing in the NBA and touch that dream. My dad is also a big supporter of giving back to the community. He’s helped set the camp up. My family still lives there, so we wanted to give something back to the community that I grew up in. We didn’t have many guys come back from my town that we could look up to, learn some drills from, play ball with them. It’s important to give these kids something to look forward to.”
It all sounds very Spurs like. But how will his teammates respond when they see this fashion shoot. Doesn’t it go against the under-the-radar nature of the team? “Well, Tony Parker considers himself to be a pretty fashionable guy, so I think he’ll be cool with it,” Green says. “Tim and Manu are likely going to be the ones that give me grief. But they were young once too.”