Team-wide, yearlong harmony exists only in the imagination of naive fans and Disney movies. Bad teams, good ones and champions navigate internal conflict more commonly than believed.
But it’s worked through, sometimes in a healthy manner, sometimes not. The Golden State Warriors find themselves in yet another cauldron, and Draymond Green is in the center of it.
That push from Jordan Poole seemed like a retreat more than an invitation for hands to engage, but it’s hard to assume from this distance. Green was locked in, ready for something. When that happens, watch your ears, your valuables and now, your face.
Maybe Poole hadn’t seen Green’s movies, maybe the two jaw at each other all the time as competitive teammates. Either way, a line was crossed by the line-stepper.
It doesn’t have to be some grand conspiracy surrounding the release of the video. TMZ has deep pockets and a lot of contacts, probably enticing some low-level video person with a big check to download and send the footage.
All it means, though, is the Warriors have yet another layer of this to deal with internally. They saw the punch even if they assumed we weren’t going to. They know Green in ways the public doesn’t, same goes for Poole.
As the saying goes with long-term couples, “You know who you married.”
Whether it had anything to do with team contracts and money or a mouthy teammate is immaterial, because even before it became public, it was going to be team business. Fights have happened all the time in professional sports, and it’s occurred more often in the NBA than the average fan would believe, given the “bark-but-don’t-bite” culture that exists on the floor most nights. Some of the thrill derived from watching pro sports is knowing highly competitive individuals teeter on the edge of losing it — adrenaline, testosterone, pride — mixed in a blender in front of millions of people watching closely.
But short of boxing and UFC, crossing the line isn’t something that’s incentivized. Green has been a habitual line-stepper at points in his career, and this is another black mark that will sit alongside those championship rings he played such an integral part in obtaining.
Stephen Curry has always had his back, always been able to look at the bigger picture as opposed to the emotion of the moment. When the vulgar and shameless Boston Celtics crowd chirped at Green, it was Curry who played big brother and told Green to wait in the car while he handled business on the floor. And even though Green disagreed — vehemently so, on his podcast — with how the Warriors organization handled his verbal spat with Kevin Durant, it has fostered and created an environment that allows for such blowups to occur without destroying the fabric of a champion.
At some point, the more a group succeeds, the more it gets high off its own supply, the more it can ignore those warning signs because of the end results. The excellence being a great deodorizer.
But things wear thin, and just because previous acts were forgiven doesn’t mean the winning validated it. The end doesn’t always justify the means.
Green is a veteran, an Olympian, a newlywed and a father. The remorse doesn’t excuse the action, nor does the provocation call for it. The audio is a missing piece, but it’s doubtful a sensible person would use it to exonerate Green in the court of public opinion or the court of the locker room — the place it matters most.
Sometimes players haul off and lose it, for whatever rhyme or reason. Michael Jordan’s rage is often referenced today as a reason for his greatness. It wasn’t. It just so happened to be a wart for one of the most competitive, and, perhaps, compelling, athletes — becoming part of his legend. Green has managed to monetize and brand his whole being, but you don’t walk into a locker room with your brand. You walk in with your competitive character, your respect and trust.
Your peers have to trust you, and the young players have to believe in you. We all know Green is going to talk. He’s going to poke and cajole and demand, especially of the young players who’ve help augment this last title run.
What this can’t be, is the start of a subtle generational divide, as the young players want to carve out their own identities in the league, not just as supporting players to those whose premium days were in seasons past.
Poole is a kid, in a sense. But he’s a grown man, too. How he handles this, and the fallout, matters more than what’s written in this space or said in 140 characters or anywhere else.
Warriors president of basketball operations Bob Myers, head coach Steve Kerr and Curry are more transparent than most would be in similar situations, and it’s on them to decide the course the franchise will proceed.
Curry is the closest, being in the sanctuary of the locker room and also Green’s most powerful advocate. Kerr has simultaneously been on the end of engaging Green’s rage (remember their locker room altercation in Oklahoma City in 2016?) while also utilizing Green’s fire when the Warriors have needed it most. And Myers has been the calm steward upon high, monitoring and responsible for watching out for the franchise, even as the team has its own goals.
The Warriors have overcome a lot, both due to Green and because of Green. The equity Green has in the organization isn’t equal to whatever equity he has with this teammate, at this time.
Green has apologized, but do those things run hollow at a point? Both in the locker room and in the boardroom? Is the return worth all the drama in the meantime?
The Warriors’ recent golden history suggests they’ll stand by Green externally and hope internally they can withstand this controversy.
Defending a title is hard enough, but defending one’s self from internal forces is an entirely different matter.
Draymond Green, or rather, Mr. Curry, has work to do.