National Basketball Association
How Warriors star Draymond Green found his voice on and off the court
National Basketball Association

How Warriors star Draymond Green found his voice on and off the court

Updated Apr. 24, 2022 10:15 p.m. ET

By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer

Draymond Green has a unique challenge this season. 

As the first active NBA player who signed a multiyear contract as an analyst for TNT, he has to rip players and then play against them.

His voice has long been his greatest asset, but now its power has been amplified exponentially, creating an unprecedented landmine for him to navigate.


"That's the fun part," Green told FOX Sports, flashing a smile. "That's the challenge. Like, how to be critical of a guy while understanding that you have to play that guy probably. Or understanding that that guy could be a teammate in a month, a year."

It's a balancing act with an extremely slim margin of error. 

Green has to talk about professional athletes with easily bruised egos in front of millions of people, but unlike other talking heads, he doesn't get to hide behind a television screen.

He then has to face them on the court, where players can make their displeasure known with elbow jabs.

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It has been an incredible opportunity for Green, who has put a lot of thought into how to approach his new gig. Whenever he's on TNT — or recording episodes of his podcast, "The Draymond Green Show" — he wants viewers to count on one thing. 

He's going to be honest but never malicious. 

"I 100 percent want to be critical," Green said. "That's the job. Like, how are you ever respected if you're not going to be critical and tell the truth? But my goal is to never — I don't like to make it personal."

It's a solid strategy, especially considering that Green recently called out Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić's subpar defense on TNT. And now he's playing against him in a first-round playoff series, which the Golden State Warriors lead 2-0 largely because Green has bottled up Jokić. In the first two games, the reigning MVP needed 45 shots to score 51 points.

The thing about Green is that he has always been controversial. Yet somehow he's loved for it — not in spite of it.

He's a guy who can hit LeBron James in the groin during the 2016 NBA Finals but then somehow become so close to him that they hugged in the middle of a game a few weeks ago. He's a guy who can release a verbal tirade on Kevin Durant in 2019 and then host him on his podcast, with the two men discussing the imbroglio with empathy and understanding. 

Green is widely beloved because everyone understands his motivation on the court: an unparalleled desire to win. He both wills and speaks that into existence, a highly unusual and incredibly valuable skill set. 

"For him, part of what makes him who he is is his voice," Warriors coach Steve Kerr told FOX Sports. "He can't rely on his shooting skill like Steph Curry. Or his leaping ability like someone else. He has had to forge himself into this great player. And a lot of it has to do with his emotion and passion."

Green is the essence of a blue-collar NBA player. He turned himself into one of the greatest defenders and passers in the history of the game with his unparalleled grit, intellect and selflessness. He doesn't have a freakish body or a highly honed skill, yet he is a three-time champion, four-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA player and the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year.

That has earned him an incomparable amount of respect around the league and, perhaps, enabled him to get away with doing a job that would backfire on so many other players.

When Tara August, the senior vice president of talent relations and special projects at TNT, was asked why Green was selected to become the first analyst out of 450 active NBA players, she raved about his confidence, candor and sense of humor.

"He was very much like Charles [Barkley]," August told FOX Sports. "And we just fell in love with him from day one."

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It's a bit ironic because Green and Barkley had longstanding beef before working together, especially after Barkley joked on TNT that he wanted to punch Green in the face after watching his antics during a Warriors playoff game in 2018. Green fired back, calling Barkley old and telling him to try to punch him or "shut up."

When Green was first invited onto TNT's "The Arena" to sit alongside Barkley in the summer of 2020, August didn't know how Green would react.

"He was like, 'Yeah, absolutely I'll come,' which a lot of guys don't say that," she said. "They say, 'Nope, you talked badly about me. I don't want to come in.' So we already knew he was going to be a little different, a little special."

Green was so comfortable, engaging and entertaining that TNT wanted him to become a fixture on the network. 

For Green, the exposure has been exhilarating. But it can also be tricky, particularly when he offends his peers.

For instance, a few months ago, Miami's Bam Adebayo was livid after listening to Green's podcast because he wasn't named as a shoo-in for Defensive Player of the Year.

So Adebayo gave Green a call.

"He was like, 'What the f---, you mean nobody has solidified themselves as Defensive Player of the Year?'" Green recalled. "'Do you not watch me play?'"

It was a fair question. Green hadn't watched Adebayo play much because Miami's games often conflicted with him getting ready for his own, a reality he acknowledged to the Heat's big man.

Green doesn't mind people calling him out. After all, no one is a bigger bulldog than him.

When Stephen A. Smith said in March on ESPN that Green doesn't deserve DPOY after missing 36 games because of a back injury, Green fired back on Instagram, asking Smith if he voted for Rudy Gobert when he missed 26 games and won the award in 2018.

"Just want to be sure I keep my hypocrite counter on track," Green wrote on social media.

They went on to have a private conversation in which both men explained their thinking and came to an understanding. Afterward, there was zero animosity.

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If you're in Green's life, you'll see his many sides.

He can be the most articulate man in any room. For instance, after a game last season, he delivered an impassioned speech pointing out the hypocrisy of no one batting an eye when Cleveland benched Andre Drummond while the team tried to trade him, even though players are criticized if they refuse to play while demanding a trade. Superstars around the league, including James, praised Green for his insightful words.

He can be an incomparable leader on the court, something Michigan State coach Tom Izzo learned during Green's freshman year. Green didn't get much playing time back then, but in crunch time, there was no one Izzo wanted on the court more. "He would not only guard his position," Izzo told FOX Sports, "but he’d tell the other four guys how to guard theirs."

But he can also be a handful.

Kerr and Green used to get into screaming matches, sometimes coming dangerously close to blows. Green would become so impassioned that he'd lose his temper. Kerr, who is just as fiery, would match the intensity. 

It took Kerr a while to understand that sometimes Green needs to lose it. Sometimes that brings out the best in him.

Kerr chuckled as he remembered calling Green out for tying his shoe in a game against New Orleans in 2014. The Pelicans were on a 10-0 run. Kerr was furious. He called a timeout and told Green he didn't like his effort.

"He snapped," Kerr said. "He’s like, ‘F--- that, I'm ready. I was ready. That's bulls---.' And so now we're screaming at each other. And he goes out, and he dominates, and we win the game. And he tells me after the game, ‘Thanks, Coach, I needed to have a fire lit under me.’"

Kerr was stunned. At the time, he didn't know if their relationship had experienced a setback. But he was told he did a good thing. Meaning they were supposed to lose it at each other?

"That's not an easy thing to sort through," Kerr said, flashing a smile.

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Kerr has long known that he needed help with Green. The first thing he did when he got the Warriors' job in 2014 was call Izzo and ask for advice. Even after eight years, Kerr regularly seeks Izzo's counsel on how to finesse situations with Green.

Izzo became a Green whisperer of sorts during their four years together from 2008 to '12. Izzo quickly learned that when Green spoke, he needed to listen. His words weren't always delivered diplomatically, but they were usually right — and incomparably smart.

But more than anything, Izzo saw Green's potential: He knew he'd become a star.

"I said that when people were looking to draft him," Izzo said. "They said, 'Well, he’s not tall enough.' I said, 'Nope.' 'He’s not quick enough.' 'Nope.' 'Not a great enough athlete.' 'Nope'. 'He doesn’t shoot it well enough.' 'You’re right.' 'Well, then what does he do?' 'He does what all of you need at the end of the day: Wins games.'"

When Kerr took over the Warriors, he saw it, too. And so he wanted to get things right with Green. He wanted to earn his trust and figure out how to harness Green's passion as a tool for both his and the team's success.

There was a learning curve, for sure. In 2016, they had a fight so intense that players in the locker room had to break them up, and police nearly intervened.

But instead of fracturing, they overcame that setback.

"I think it's one of the moments you look back at and say, that was an important moment in our journey," Green said. "Good, bad or indifferent, it was important for the growth. Sometimes you got to go down to go up."

Over the years, Green and Kerr developed a deep trust in each other. This season, their bond has reached a new level. They've almost become co-coaches.

Kerr will often discuss things with Green before presenting them to the Warriors. If Kerr is the head of the team and Green is its heart, when they're aligned, there's a powerful harmony that reverberates throughout the entire body of the team.

"It's been more of a collaboration than ever before," Kerr said, adding that he has also learned not to react when Green gets fired up. "I don't really fight back too much anymore because I realize I don't need to. I need to let him blow off some steam. And if I let him blow off some steam, he's gonna be a better player."

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That has been a winning recipe for the Warriors, who finished the season third in the West, with a record of 53-29, after missing the playoffs the past two seasons. Green was the leader for Defensive Player of the Year before a back injury in January sidelined him for nearly two months.

For Green, the growth of his relationship with Kerr has been a game-changer. He needs people to help rein him in, a job that used to be reserved for the team's veterans, such as Shaun Livingston and David West.

Now Green wholeheartedly trusts Kerr to help him with that.

"There was a time when he didn't feel comfortable talking to me, and I didn’t feel comfortable talking to him," Green said. "There was a time where I kind of went off the rails, and he just kind of let me go. I think over the course of the years, the relationship has really grown to the point where he’ll come talk to me and say, 'That’s enough.' Cool. But he's always very careful, like, 'Hey, that's enough. But listen, we need this fire.'"

When Green first got the TNT gig, he and Kerr had a chat.

Kerr knew better than anyone how difficult it would be for Green to balance his two jobs. Kerr became an analyst for TNT after he retired from his playing career in 2003. He remembers the piercing glares he'd receive from players who didn't like what he said. He couldn't imagine having to endure their ire while playing against them.

During their talk, Kerr made sure to stress one thing to Green.

"Just to remember the No. 1 job was on the court and to devote his energy accordingly," Kerr said.

But that was never an issue.

In fact, Kerr says Green has blossomed in new ways this season. Kerr recently called Izzo, but this time, it wasn't for advice. It was to let Izzo know that Green has turned into the leader he always hoped he'd become.

"I said, ‘You'd be incredibly proud of Draymond,'" Kerr said. "This has been his best year as a leader. His most poised, his most thoughtful. I mean, he has been the very best version of himself."

Green has always relied on his voice. He says that stems from his childhood in Saginaw, Michigan. While most parents would tell their children not to talk back to adults, Green's mother, Mary Babers-Green, always encouraged Draymond to speak his truth, albeit respectfully, regardless of the person's age or stature.

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Over the years, Green has made a career through using his voice. After the Warriors selected him as the 35th overall pick in the 2012 draft, he became a spark plug who would light a fire under his teammates with his lockdown defense, selfless screens and outbursts of emotion.

But recently, Green's presence has evolved. "He’s always had a voice," Izzo said. "Now he has a voice with a message."

Green has learned how to pick his spots with teammates. He adjusts the way he speaks to guys based on how they can best digest his words. He inspires.

"I think Draymond is just an incredible talker, and his ability to see the game is second to none," Klay Thompson said. "... Draymond is one of the greatest steals in NBA history."

He has refined his voice, making it a more powerful tool than ever, and it's ringing loud and clear. 

He uses it in the locker room to motivate his teammates. He uses it on television, where he's a widely respected analyst with one of the highest basketball IQs in the sport. And he uses it on his podcast, where he sounds off on issues he believes in and conducts fascinating interviews with other players, encouraging their vulnerability by exposing his own. 

It has all been surreal for Green, who recently heard something that left him at a loss for words. 

"A lot of people have said to me, 'You have one of the most respected voices in the league beyond LeBron,'" Green said. "For me, that's a very surreal thing, like a pinch yourself moment."

For someone who wasn't highly recruited or a McDonald's All-American or a lottery pick, it's difficult for him to wrap his head around that. 

Not long ago, Green was desperate to make a name for himself, screaming at anyone who would listen that he deserved a chance. 

Now, he has one of the most powerful voices in sports.

And for him, this is just the beginning. 

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.


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