SAN FRANCISCO — Draymond Green is enjoying Golden State’s return to NBA prominence after a two-year sabbatical, believing the break helped his mind and body recover and realign his hunger.
After five straight NBA Finals and three titles, the Warriors had an injury-riddled 2019-20 season and were eliminated in the play-in tournament last season by the same Memphis Grizzlies they’re facing now.
Green called the last two years “miserable” but felt they were valuable — he was able to reflect as his Warriors are tied 1-1 with the Grizzlies with Game 3 at Chase Center up Saturday evening.
“At least I was miserable,” Green said. “I don’t think that’s for everybody. I don’t think everybody in this league wants to win. That’s not a thing I believe. I don’t believe everyone wants to win.”
Green isn’t the same 25-year-old who unlocked Golden State’s small-ball revolution in 2015. He’s 32, with some gray hairs in that playoff-tested beard, and has seen segments of players come and go over the last near-decade.
Green spoke of the sacrifices he’s had to make in his career — not necessarily statistical, but in terms of lifestyle and preparation — not to win, but to put himself in position to win. While teammate Stephen Curry has won multiple MVPs and Klay Thompson is noted as one of the league’s all-time shooters, they’ve each made individual sacrifices for the sake of something bigger.
Green has both been a beneficiary and initiator of that culture.
“It’s pretty stressful,” Green said. “But it’s mentally, physically, and most of all, emotionally draining, taxing, you know, because it requires a level of focus and requires a level of sacrifice, that’s stressful, you kind of just fully immerse yourself into this, almost into a trance.”
Champions of all eras speak about this, almost as if it’s a secret only they know and the rest of the basketball world isn’t privy to. It’s spoken about in vague terms but when put together, sounds pretty clear.
“How can I get better with this? What am I putting in my body? That’s going to help me tomorrow,” Green said. “You know, like, can’t eat this thing, can’t eat that, can’t drink this thing.”
Green has gone through transformations with his body to better equip himself for the long playoff grinds as well as the matchups against bigger, stronger players — like last round against presumptive MVP Nikola Jokic.
“And that’s stressful, you know,” Green continued. “And so for a guy making $35 million a year and never has to win, why stress yourself out that way? [It’s] what a loser thinks. And I just don’t think that way.”
There are plenty of players with the max designation who are productive but don’t display winning intangibles on or off the court. Green’s been part of the league long enough to know who they are.
“I don’t knock anyone for how they feel or what they think, whatever their reason is for feeling that way is totally fine with me, that don’t have absolutely nothing to do with me,” Green said. “It doesn’t affect me in one way or another. It doesn’t at all, it just doesn’t work for me.”
He’s been a champion at the high school level, helped Michigan State to two Final Fours and won Olympic gold in 2016. In short, where he is, winning is sure to follow. Sporting a bit of a shiner under his right eye courtesy of friendly Michigan State fire from Xavier Tillman, he wouldn’t give himself bail for Game 2’s loss to Memphis.
He’s been where Memphis is, as a hungry upstart. Finding motivation is different but in sum, still something he summons.
“You know, when I was 25 years old, in the Finals, I wasn’t married with three kids, and trying to be an incredible husband, that’s a totally different thing,” Green said. “Like, trying to be an incredible father, that’s a totally different thing. And so that also adds to it, you know, like, there’s just so many other things that as you get older that you have to do.
“You know, you add in the stress of not having something to prove, per se, and already being a three-time champion, and knowing if you never win again, you won three championships. And that’s nearly impossible to do. On the flip side of that, you have the stress of like, I always want that feeling.”
It’s hard to say if the Warriors are in a dogfight with the Grizzlies or if the Grizzlies are still some time and experience away from truly challenging the establishment.
Green seems to live by a simple creed, though.
“As someone who loves to win, and even more so than that, absolutely hates losing,” he said.