SAN ANTONIO — Before the NBA Finals began, LeBron James let it be known Danny Green once was his “rook” in Cleveland.
Well, the “rook” sure has grown up.
The play of the San Antonio Spurs guard against James’ Miami Heat has been the biggest surprise in the series. Green, who averaged 10.5 points and shot 42.9 percent from 3-point range in the regular season, is averaging 16.5 points and shooting a staggering 67.9 percent (19 of 28) from long range in the first four games of the Finals.
Green has come a long way from when he was a rookie on the Cavaliers in 2009-10. Green scored 40 points that entire season, a total James reached in 10 different games.
Green played just 115 minutes all season. He spent a lot more time doing chores for the veterans on the team.
“Back then, I was like the team assistant, so I did a lot of stuff,” said Green, whose Spurs are tied 2-2 with the Heat entering Sunday’s Game 5 at the AT&T Center. “I had to run errands for everybody, whether it was getting chargers or movies or DJ Hero from Best Buy or going to the store and getting this or that or wake up in the middle of the night and picking up their practice gear or getting Gatorades and carrying coolers.”
But while one might think James was one of the ringleaders bossing around Green, that actually wasn’t the case. Green said James instead “looked after me.”
“I know I had to get food for him one time,” Green remembered. “They’d play cards back then and during the card games, I’d get food and run an errand for some guys. … (James) didn’t have me do anything crazy. He was one of my better guys. That’s why we got along so well. I looked up to him. He was one of my guys I liked to hang out with.”
While James was a seven-year veteran in 2009-10, he was just 24 to start that season. Green was 22 when he showed up in Cleveland.
There were 11 players older than James who played for the Cavaliers that season. The most wily of the bunch was Shaquille O’Neal, 37 when 2009-10 got underway.
“I wasn’t really the veteran on the team that made the rookies do stuff,” James said. “Most of the time it was Shaq. Shaq made (Green) do everything.”
Indeed it was O’Neal who kept the rookie guard very busy. The fun-loving center had a great time with the second-round pick from North Carolina who was, well, green.
“He’s a very creative guy,” Green said. “I did sing a couple of songs. … A little dancing. You had to greet (O’Neal and some other veterans) a certain way. It was all fun and games, but it’s a lot different when you’re a rookie that’s playing than a rookie that’s not playing. They had a little fun with me because I wasn’t playing much.”
Coby Karl, a Cavaliers guard for the first half of that season, also didn’t play much. But Karl at least was a second-year man, so that spared him much of O’Neal’s wrath.
“Shaq would do a lot of fraternity-like stuff,” Karl said. “He would make Danny stand up in front of the video and do a dance, some sort of routine.”
Green has grown up plenty since then. He was waived by the Cavaliers after that season and then later cut twice by the Spurs before he stuck with the team.
Green started to show last season, when he became a starter by midseason and ended up averaging 9.1 points, that he had a bright NBA future. He started all 80 games he played this season.
Now, Green is playing some of the best ball of his life on basketball’s biggest stage. Spurs forward Matt Bonner said it’s “like he’s been here 10 times before.”
Through the first three games of the Finals, Green actually outscored James 56-50. James since has taken an 83-66 edge, but he can’t help but be impressed by the showing of his former “rook.”
“I’ve seen the talent in practice every day,” James said of being with Green in Cleveland. “We would always shoot after practice. … I saw his ability to shoot the ball … I just think he needed an opportunity. … He got a great opportunity (with San Antonio), and he’s taking full advantage of it.”
Green said time spent with James played a role in his development. He observed regularly how the star conducted himself.
“It was more of me just being around him and watching and learning and being a sponge and taking things from him that he did on and off the court,” Green said. “I learned a lot from him.”
From O’Neal, Green didn’t learn as much. Well, maybe he did perfect some dance moves.