If the report is true that Steve Kerr told Draymond Green to sit down, and that Green’s blowback response was, “Mother [bleeper], come make me,” then the resident smack-talker, ref-baiter, dirty-worker and poop-stirrer is very lucky to be a basketball player and not an everyday shlub in the business world.
Or he wouldn’t have a job today. And might not have one ever again.
Even when such a slur is uttered in the more lenient domain of the professional locker room, Green at least should be out a whole lot of green today. I know coaches who would have suspended him a game or two without pay. I know coaches who would have placed him on the trading block. I know coaches who would have thrust a fist in his grill and challenged him to a fight right there, in a locker room in Oklahoma City, regardless of the team’s gaudy record and exultant place in sports.
But Steve Kerr, who once traded practice punches with Michael Jordan and wound up catching a pass from him and making a title-winning jumper, is blessed with bigger intellect than ego. The verbal exchange during Green’s now-infamous Saturday night halftime blowup is said to have included “F-bombs [and] MF-bombs,” according to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, and while Kerr chided Stephen A. for being Stephen A. and not being in the room at the time, he didn’t deny the story. Having heard the language Green has used on the court with opponents, who voted him the NBA’s biggest trash-talker in a recent Los Angeles Times poll, I am going to assume his portion of the Kerr crossfire was vicious.
Which means Kerr took one for the organization Monday in giving Green a pass, not the easiest concession when he’s trying to coach the Warriors to another championship, continues to fight headaches after a spinal-fluid leak and surely knows that Green — who has loved being the class clown since high school — just got away with more mess. If he was the 12th man on the team, he’d have been waived. Green is the second-most important piece in this machine, and without his energy and versatility and defensive muckwork and savvy in the pick-and-roll game that ignites Steph Curry’s flurries, the Warriors aren’t looking at the beginnings of a dynasty right now. Point being, Kerr knows all of that, and rather than protect authoritarian turf as would many coaches — his mentor, Gregg Popovich, among them — he simply laid down the law with Green behind closed doors and declared the drama over.
This is known, in psychoanalytical circles, as managing a problem.
And then conveniently blaming it on the media, even though Kerr made his living as a TNT analyst in a previous basketball life.
“This is the way life is these days. There’s 24-hour sports talk shows on the radio, on TV, and we’re in the spotlight because of our record,” Kerr said. “It doesn’t bother us that everyone’s talking about it. We know it was handled internally. We all love each other and we’re good.
“You guys all know how emotional he is. That’s one of the things that makes him great, is his passion and his intensity. I think we’re doing OK. We won the championship last year, what’s our record now, 53-5? I think his emotion is good for us. At times it bubbles over, but for anybody to say, ‘Oh no, we should look out, what’s coming next?’ — come on.”
What do you mean, come on? ‘What’s coming next?’ certainly is a fair question. From Kerr and general manager Bob Myers to Curry and the players, the Warriors have encouraged Green’s manic behavior because a relatively low-key bunch feeds off him. But if he actually referred to Kerr as “Mother [bleeper],” then I do wonder what might happen in a tense situation when, oh, he’s dropping f-bombs at an official in the final seconds of a tie game (as he has) or screaming at Kerr and Luke Walton near an open microphone (as he has) in a huddle. There’s a fine line between energizing and draining a team, and if Curry didn’t bail out Green with his record-breaking barrage, there would be bigger questions around the league about the distraction factor moving forward. It wasn’t lost among team members last June when Green harshly criticized the team’s effort midway through the NBA Finals in Cleveland — when he wasn’t playing well himself. The Warriors survived that challenge, too, but one of these times, the enabling of Green may turn into the disabling of the Dubs.
He apologized Monday in front of a downtown Oakland media gathering, but were the words sincere? Or was he forced to do so by Kerr and management? “I admit my mistakes. I made a mistake. I admitted my mistakes to my teammates, my coaching staff,” Green said. “I apologized to my teammates and my coaching staff, this organization. That wasn’t the right way to handle what needed to be handled. As a leader of this team, I can’t do that because it sets a bad precedent how everything is ran around here, how everything should be ran, how everything has been ran and how everything will run going forward. It won’t happen again. It’s something where my emotions kind of got ahead of me and I let my emotions get the best of me.”
First of all, it’s not HIS coaching staff. Kerr is his superior, the one who placed him in the starting lineup during training camp 17 months ago, when David Lee was hurt, and didn’t send him back to the bench when Lee returned. Kerr is the direct reason why Green emerged as a star, and why he was given an $85 million contract last summer that completed a remarkable full circle for a young man with a humble upbringing who was deemed too short and too pudgy and was taken 35th in the 2012 draft. How quickly Green forgot three nights ago, when the coach was reminding him about poor shot selection and force-feeding three-pointers, that Kerr created the Draymond Green rage.
No one believes Green was ready to go home at intermission. He loves the limelight too much, the thrill, the action. “I would never quit on my teammates as some have reported,” Green said. “I would never quit on my coaching staff, I would never quit on this organization. This organization has given me everything I could ask for. I support and represent this organization to the best of my ability. That’s not who I am, that’s not who I’ve been and that’s not who I will become.
“I know when you’re in the midst of a great season, people are going to latch onto certain stuff to try to tear it down. We’re moving forward.”
Wrong again. No one is trying to “latch onto certain stuff” and trying “to tear it down.” The Warriors are American darlings, including Green, who is smothered by national media people almost as much as Curry in availability settings. Face it, Dray. You screwed up. You’re fortunate as hell that your head coach — and the resident megastar — love you and understand you.
“We know he’ll never quit, and he’ll never do anything to put our production on the floor in jeopardy,” Curry said. “He’s invested in what we’re doing. Obviously, he’s an emotional guy, a fiery guy. That’s what we love about him, what he brings to the court. It spilled over to the locker room, but the way we were able to respond was a testament to our team and him as an individual to understand it probably shouldn’t have happened. We came out and stayed united.”
As long as the Warriors keep winning — and why wouldn’t they after surviving the Oklahoma City chaos? — such flareups will be shelved in the back room. Not only are they on pace to blast through the 1995-96 Bulls (of Jordan-Kerr brawling fame) and win 73 games, they might become the first team to go 41-0 at home, a pursuit resuming tonight against Atlanta at Oracle Arena. When mediocre or bad teams are infected by halftime tirades, that’s when it becomes a major story. Tranquil leaders such as Kerr and Curry maintain an equilibrium that is helped, of course, by relentless success.
“You think that’s the first time somebody’s raised their voice? Or a player to a player, or sometimes unfortunately a player to coach, it doesn’t matter,” Curry said. “That’s happened before and [this was] just the circumstance where it was heard. You can write that story, sure: We’re in shambles right now.”
I’m not writing it. No one is writing it. They are not in shambles.
But only because their coach has vision and perspective beyond a two-word name-calling fiasco in a heated moment, disgusting as those two words were. Next time Draymond Green plays Santa Claus at the holidays, he needs to apologize to the kids, too.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.