OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Draymond Green has overcome the odds his entire life, going from a chubby kid from a small Michigan town to Big Ten Player of the Year to NBA champion.
The versatile forward has done it all while living by the mantra his mother, Mary Babers-Green, instilled in him at an early age: ”Men that don’t work don’t eat.”
Green has put in the work – and now he can eat as well as he wants.
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A week after reaching a verbal agreement, Green signed his $82 million, five-year contract with the Golden State Warriors on Thursday to remain with the reigning champions.
Green thanked his family, friends and the franchise at a news conference on the team’s practice court, which was lined with about 150 young campers and front-office employees. His mother wiped away tears while sitting in the front row with Green’s girlfriend, best friend and agent.
It was the latest surreal scene to play out for Green, who has become a basketball celebrity in the Bay Area and beyond.
”I never imagined walking through the airport being a struggle. Or everywhere you go just being a complete struggle. I never imagined that for myself. In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t imagine that,” Green said. ”The respect that you get from everyone after winning a championship, it’s been incredible.”
Green was a restricted free agent, meaning the Warriors could have matched any offer he received. But Golden State always expected to pay whatever salary he commanded, even if that meant dipping into the league’s luxury tax – which it will almost surely do now.
The Warriors drafted Green 35th overall in 2012 after passing on the former Michigan State standout with their first two selections. He took over as the starting power forward this season after David Lee injured his left hamstring in the final preseason game.
The 25-year-old Green averaged 11.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists and finished runner-up for NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
In the playoffs, he averaged 13.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists, including a triple-double in the Game 6 clincher at Cleveland in the NBA Finals.
Warriors general manager Bob Myers called re-signing Green the team’s top priority this offseason. He counts the versatile forward as a core part of the franchise’s long-term future alongside MVP Stephen Curry and All-Star guard Klay Thompson.
”Draymond, through his entire life, whatever situation he’s been confronted by, he’s won,” Myers said. ”It doesn’t matter where he was or what position he played. His teams won. And that’s not a coincidence. We want to have as many of those guys as we can.”
It’s a major pay raise for Green, who worked his way up from the blue-collar town of Saginaw, Michigan, where he won back-to-back state titles in high school. He starred at Michigan State, winning Big Ten Player of the Year and going to two Final Fours, but he was an overlooked second-round pick in the NBA.
Green, who made $3.6 million total in his first three years in the league, is now a player whom Warriors coach Steve Kerr calls the ”heartbeat” of the NBA champions.
”I don’t necessarily think that this deal validates me because I don’t play basketball for money,” Green said. ”I play basketball because I love the game of basketball. It’s what I’ve loved since I was 2 years old. No money is going to make me feel validated or like I belong because I signed a contract.”
But Green admitted he still ran around his hotel after getting the deal done with Myers last week.
”It was a great feeling, but it didn’t even compare or come close to the feeling of winning a championship. It didn’t come close,” he said. ”So if anything validated me, it was that.”
The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Green said he still wants to improve his outside shooting, develop a few post moves and do more than play ”bully ball.”
Green and the Warriors are tied together now, especially after the team agreed last week to trade Lee and his $15.4 million contract to the Boston Celtics for well-traveled forward Gerald Wallace. Green said he takes the Warriors’ financial commitment seriously and plans to live up to his end of the bargain.
”I’m going to give it my all. We won one championship, but that’s not enough for me,” Green said. ”That’s my goal. That’s what drives me and is going to continue to drive me. The contract’s not going to change that.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP