Why the Draymond Green-Warriors partnership perseveres, and a plane ride to remember

Why the Draymond Green-Warriors partnership perseveres, and a plane ride to remember

BOSTON — None of this happens without Draymond Green.

The four Golden State titles. The six finals appearances in eight years. The Kevin Durant chapter and everything that came before and after it.

This latest Warriors feat will be forever remembered as Steph Curry’s crowning achievement — and with good reason. But the beauty of this Warriors dynasty, this journey that was born out of a special bond between Curry, Green and Klay Thompson above everything else, is that all of them are vital to the cause. And after all the talk about Green’s struggles in these finals against Boston, his one-of-a-kind impact, intensity and two-way value were there for all to see when it mattered most.

Again.

He was Sag Nasty — same as he ever was — with a slice of revenge afterward when those, “F— you, Draymond!” chants that Celtics fans had bellowed were mocked by the Warriors themselves in their champagne-drenched locker room.

Twelve points, 12 boards, eight assists, two steals, two blocks and a plus-16 rating in the Warriors’ 103-90 Game 6 closeout win. After all these years in which the roller-coaster relationship between Green and the Warriors was equal parts thrills and white-knuckle moments, this was the latest reward for the joint investment. And yet again, as we’ve seen so many times before since this run began in 2015, they found a way to survive the tense times and come out thriving together on the other side.

Before we even get to the part about Game 4, when Steve Kerr’s decision to play Kevon Looney over Green in fourth-quarter crunchtime tested the trust that is so crucial to what they have and was a turning point in the series, let’s hit the rewind button for a moment. It’s mid-August, and the Warriors’ offseason vibes are changed for the worse by Green’s decision to reopen old wounds in a podcast interview with Durant.

The two former teammates talk at length about all the sordid events that led to Durant leaving, from the infamous blow-up between them in the Clippers game on Nov. 12, 2018, to the months of uncomfortableness that followed as his free agency neared. Green speaks openly about his opinion that general manager Bob Myers and Kerr mismanaged the fallout and were, in essence, largely to blame. Make no mistake, this raw rehashing of it all was a bigger problem internally than any of them admitted at the time.

But it also makes it all the more remarkable that they somehow found a way to get from there to here. Somehow, someway, through the LeBron James crotch-swat that caused his Game 5 suspension in the 2016 finals to the Durant recruitment that spawned a dominant era and this renaissance that followed two years of struggle, Green and the Warriors keep finding a way to make basketball magic together. No matter how many times it might look like their bond is bound to break.

So, how do they do it? By keeping an honest line of communication open for years on end. And in the case of these finals, that meant Myers and Green talking for six hours on a cross-country flight on Tuesday from Oakland, Calif., to Boston that they’ll never forget.

As Green shared in his Wednesday media session, he sat at a table on the plane with Curry and Thompson. When Myers walked by, he marveled at the fact that these grown men still wanted to spend time together talking after all these years. From there, a conversation that was as deep and meaningful as Myers and Green have ever had, and that focused almost entirely on their life outside of basketball, ensued.

Curry took part too. Damion Lee listened intently and even thanked Myers afterward for his insights. As Thompson joked on Wednesday about their extended visit at 30,000 feet, he was trying to get some sleep while all the chatter surrounded him. And yes, as Myers shared with The Athletic, the infamous podcast appearance with Durant and Green was among the many topics they discussed. Considering how far they’d all come, and what they were on the verge of accomplishing, it was quite fitting that there were no reports of turbulence.

In an attempt to understand these dynamics that are at the core of what these Warriors just accomplished, I spoke at length with Myers (before Game 6) Green (after Game 6) and Gary Payton II (about the Green benching after Game 4). The following is an inside look at one of the most unique, nuanced and successful relationships in all of sports.

The interviews have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. Author’s notes are in italics.

The journey

Myers

Somebody smart told me a long time ago that you have to put equity in relationships because at some point, somebody’s going to upset someone else in a relationship — intentionally, unintentionally. And if you don’t have built-up equity, that can fracture the relationship. So I think that’s a mistake we make in the NBA sometimes. In an environment that’s pretty transactional and highly result-based, we don’t put energy into a benefit that might not happen for a long time. So maybe with Draymond and I, me going to the A’s game in Game 5 of 2016 was a moment where you connect at a level that (truly matters).

A quick reminder: While the Warriors were trying (unsuccessfully) to beat Cleveland without Green in Game 5 at Oracle Arena, he decided to attend an A’s baseball game next door (there were Green chants that day too, of “Free Draymond”). Myers, in a strong sign of organizational support, decided to attend the A’s game with Green.

I didn’t have to do that. He didn’t even ask me to do that. I just said, ‘I’ll come watch with you.’ So over time, if you’re fortunate enough like I am to have been around these guys for 10 years, I would think you develop relationships so you can withstand whatever comes along — a podcast (laughs), Steve not playing him in the finals, all the little things in life that we go through in any relationship. My favorite part of our guys is getting to know them.

Green

That’s the best part of the journey. Your journey is only as good as the people that you go through it with. And for us, we started this thing together. You don’t want to go through it with anybody else. Ultimately, I give a lot of credit to our ownership group and a lot of credit to Bob Myers for convincing them on the daily that having this high payroll is ultimately going to pay off and trusting and allowing us to get back healthy and still continue to go at it. It is such an amazing thing. But I think ultimately, the most important thing for us is the trust that we have amongst each other.

Myers

What I said, and I said to our owner and believe and still believe was we owe it to them — meaning those three guys — to give them a chance to succeed or fail. And they hadn’t had that yet, for two years. And they didn’t even get it through the regular season. … So I’ve always held on to that. But there was no thought of ‘Well, we’ve got to break this up.’ We just thought that they’ve done so well together, let’s not be the ones to end it. If it ends because we get beat or things change or whatever happens, fine. But let’s not be the reason they didn’t get another shot at this thing. That was the motivation.

The plane ride

Myers

We talked about everything but basketball that everyone deals with. I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be them (the players) because I’m not a celebrity, or famous or as wealthy as them. But we all have wives, significant others, kids. We all work in the NBA.

And so we were talking a lot about how to move through that, and how hard it is, and how much effort it takes, and how little people on the outside know of that, you know? It was a great moment to talk about how we’re living. I suppose they get sick of talking (with the media) about Steph’s 3-point shots and ‘Draymond, you got taken out of the game,’ or ‘What’s your legacy?’ For them, they’re so immersed in that world, in that area, that I think it’s nice to talk about, ‘How’s your parenting going? And how’s that (going)?’

I just think we get so focused on Game 5, Game 6, I don’t think we talk enough about (life). Once this stuff is over, we’re gonna go back to our lives. Everybody’s got challenges, so I’m just talking about that stuff.

Green

We got really deep. And it was more about life. It was about marriage, and marriage counseling, and kids, and how to raise them. Real life. What do you do if this happened? What do you do if that happened? How do you manage your kids growing up with money and just all these different conversations. It was such a special conversation on the way to winning a championship. That is the thing that you remember the most. Like, ‘Yo, do you remember that conversation we had?’ Not ‘Do you remember the championship?’ That’s cool. But it’s the journey. ‘Do you remember the conversation we had on the way to winning a championship?’ Those are things that bring you together for a lifetime. We’ve seen several people win trophies together, and they hate each other. It’s those things that bring you together and connect you forever.

Myers

Everything’s so fragile in the NBA — for us, for every team. So you really have to work hard to hold on to the strands of relationships and your team. People don’t play that long for their teams anymore. There’s a lot of pressure and impatience in organizations to win immediately. (You need) trust, patience and time. But the thing that was interesting about that conversation was that I started out with (sharing) all the things I don’t do well. My wife’s brother (Scott Dinsmore) who passed away (at the age of 33 in a hiking accident on Mount Kilimanjaro on Sept. 12, 2015) said, ‘When you are authentically yourself, it gives people a chance to be authentically themselves.’ So I began (telling the players) ‘Do you guys struggle with whatever? Because I certainly do.’

In fairness to Myers, this part should be clear: I brought up the podcast topic. Now that the Warriors had won it all again, I was curious to learn more about how Myers handled those delicate dynamics earlier in the season. As it turns out, that was part of their plane reflection session as well.

You know, it’s funny. We talked about that on the plane. … I knew that that was something we were going to talk about (when it happened). But I wasn’t going to judge until I had a chance to talk to him. But a lot of the things he said (on the podcast) he had already said to me anyway. He just said them to everybody. So it wasn’t any different. We talked about it not a ton (earlier in the season), but we didn’t avoid it either. Draymond doesn’t pull punches — publicly or privately. But it didn’t damage things. It didn’t. Had the follow-up conversation not gone well, then maybe (it would have). But I never feared the relationship fracturing. And I wasn’t going to let something like that, as much as the public reacted to it, ruin our friendship, our relationship over the last 10 years.

The Game 4 benching

In hindsight, it might seem strange that so much was made of the three-minute, 51-second stretch in which Looney played over Green midway through the fourth quarter of Golden State’s Game 4 win at the TD Garden. But this is Draymond Green we’re talking about here, and it was crunchtime in the finals for the Warriors team that he helped build. And not only was he on the bench during that stretch in which the Warriors pulled ahead during an 11-4 run, but it was quite obvious Green wasn’t happy about Kerr’s choice.

It was fair to wonder if the Warriors were in for a shaky ride.

As he shared that night on his “The Draymond Green Show” podcast, it was Payton, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Chris Chiozza who helped him keep his cool in the most heated of moments. When he returned with 3:41 left, he came up with several big plays down the stretch as the Warriors closed out the win.

As Green pointed out after Game 6, the Warriors’ defense had everything to do with the Celtics falling short. And no matter how you slice it, Green is the defensive leader of this team that had a better defensive rating in the finals (105.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) than it had in the regular season (106.6, second in the league behind Boston’s 106.2; the Celtics had a 110 defensive rating in the finals).

Payton II 

He’s one of our leaders. We were just telling them that he’s our leader. Especially in Boston, you can’t show all the fans in Boston that you’re frustrated. (Not) at this time right now; showing them that this got to you or whatever. Don’t show them. It’s bigger than that. He’s a bigger, bigger piece for us. He’s a role model, a leader for us. And we want him to keep positive, keep his energy, because we know that Coach (Kerr) is gonna go back to him for a defensive possession or whatever.

He was just quiet (on the bench). Once Draymond gets quiet, you know he’s frustrated. You could see it in his face that he was frustrated. You just try to calm him down. We knew how frustrated he was and were just trying to keep his head in the game. We knew he was gonna come back and be great for us, like he always does. … Part of our job is to make sure our leaders stay locked in and stay ready. Everything helps, you know? Everybody does their part on the bench, from the first guy to the 15th guy. Everybody does it.

Green

You have to (get through moments like that). But like I said, ultimately in those moments, the most important thing is that you trust each other. I didn’t question (Kerr). I was upset, (because) as a competitor you want to be in the game. But I wasn’t upset that he thought he should go a different direction. It wasn’t something that he needed to explain to me. …Ultimately, we go through this together. He put me out on the floor. He’s trusting me that I’m going to do what’s best for the team. If he goes a different (way), that same trust the opposite way is important. I think for us, that’s the No. 1 thing for everyone in this organization is that we trust each other.


Related reading

Aldridge: Warriors, like the champions they are, refuse to exit stage
Thompson: Warriors’ trio of stars leaves no doubt
Slater: Did the Warriors buy another title? ‘It’s ridiculous’
Vardon: Jayson Tatum’s first finals trip is a rough one

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(Photo: Kyle Terada / USA Today)


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