MIAMI (AP) — Danny Green smiled as he stepped behind the interview podium and a crowd of reporters gathered around him to talk about the NBA Finals.
On a San Antonio Spurs team that steps into the spotlight reluctantly, and occasionally petulantly, Green seems only too happy to entertain questions and relay his story.
No one wanted to talk to him in Slovenia. There were rarely demands for interviews when he was playing in Reno or Austin. His phone rarely rang after he was cut first by Cleveland and twice was cast off by these Spurs.
Now that Green has cemented his status as a pivotal role player for San Antonio in the finals, he can be forgiven for enjoying a little bit of the attention that so many of his teammates shun.
“It’s been a long journey,” Green said. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride for me. I’m very happy and blessed to be here and have this opportunity, and I just want to take advantage of it.”
Green scored 12 points in San Antonio’s Game 1 victory over the Miami Heat, hitting four 3-pointers and taking turns defensively on stars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
He is in the first season of a three-year deal that will pay him close to $12 million and starting for a team that is going for its fifth championship. Not bad for a guy who played 28 games and was cut three times in his first two seasons in the NBA and openly wondered if he had what it took to play in the top basketball league in the world.
“I’m very proud of Danny,” Spurs point guard Tony Parker said. “We had him, then we cut him, came back, cut him, came back, and he just showed a lot of toughness mentally. It’s not easy to make an NBA team. And Danny is very important in what we do.”
After a standout career at North Carolina, Green was picked in the second round by the Cavaliers. He played sparingly in 20 games as a rookie, becoming fast friends with James, who was still one year away from making the jump to Miami.
He was waived by Cleveland before the next season started and picked up by the Spurs. Green lasted less than a week in his first go-around in San Antonio, but was brought back for the final month of the season before the NBA lockout left him without a team that summer. Green went overseas to play in Slovenia and also labored through NBA Development League stints with Reno before getting another shot with the Spurs.
“Some days you wake up and don’t realize where you’re at and you go, `What the hell am I doing here?'” Green said. “That happened in a couple of cities, places. Reno, some places overseas.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Tar Heels coach Roy Williams harped on him constantly to refine his game. He worked tirelessly with Spurs player development specialist Chad Forcier to improve his shooting form. What used to vary wildly from one shot to the next turned into a smoother, more consistent release.
“The business has helped me grow a lot; the organization has helped me grow. My teammates, everybody has played a key part in who I am today,” Green said. “I’ve learned a lot, been a sponge and just continued to take criticism in stride in good positive energy.”
James chuckled when asked to compare the Green he saw as a teammate to the one who was drilling 3-pointers to beat him in Game 1 — the implication being that there’s really no comparison at all.
“I’ve seen the talent he had,” James said. “He showed the talent when he was in North Carolina. Once he got to Pop, Pop gave him confidence. You get the opportunity, you go out and make the most of it.”
Green said he learned from James as well.
“I watched him on and off the court, learned a lot of things about being a professional,” Green said. “I also tried to add some things to my game. Obviously I’m not capable of doing the athletically nice plays that he does, but I try to add a little bit here and there.”
Green is shooting 43.2 percent on 3s in the postseason this year and went 4 for 9 in Game 1, a nice bounce-back after a poor showing in the Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City last year.
Two summers ago, he was in Slovenia just trying to hang on to an NBA dream that seemed so far away. Now he’s in South Beach, and he’s appreciating this stage as much as anyone.
“I can’t tell you the worst place. There’s been a couple places that were kind of dreadful,” Green said. “Obviously when I was overseas we visited a couple places that were rough. I was in Reno in the D-League; it was different. Those lifestyles make you pretty much appreciate the NBA lifestyle.”