DANVILLE, Ca. -- Draymond Green’s sprint toward NBA stardom began when he was 12 years old and able to grasp and apply the concept of help-side defense. It could not reach full speed, though, until he cooled his friendship Little Caesar.
Green and LC grew up together in Michigan. They were tight, according to former Saginaw High basketball coach Lou Dawkins, who was the most influential coach of Green’s adolescence. Green was the budding athlete, and LC and his nefarious allies were doing their part to prevent him from reaching full potential.
Green was a large, chubby teenager. LC was his buddy in a box. Pizza.
“I remember when he was a junior in high school,” Dawkins recalled Wednesday, glancing over at Green, the newly crowned NBA Defensive Player of the Year. “We started class at 7:40 in Michigan, and he would come with a Hot-n-Ready pizza. At 7:40 in the morning. I caught him doing that, and I chewed him out. I laid into him.”
To be sure, Green’s food friend wasn’t enough of a burden to keep him out of the NBA. As a second-round draft pick by the Warriors in 2012, he clawed his way into the league even with his weight pushing 250 at certain points of his rookie season.
But a steady diet of pizza would not have allowed Green to become the player or the man he is today: 6-foot-7 on a good day, weighing about 230 pounds, an NBA All-Star, an Olympic gold medalist and Defensive Player of the Year
“When he changed his diet, things took off for him,” said Dawkins, now an assistant at Cleveland State. “It made him quicker. It made him smoother. He always had the IQ. But not being a premier athlete, he knew that he would have to do more for him to exist at this level. And he did it.”
Told about the pizza-in-the-morning story, Green broke into a grin at the memory. He liked to eat, with pizza and tacos among his favorites, almost as much as he liked to play basketball.
He had to take a break from LC. Create some distance. Green had a choice to make, and he realized he had to push away.
“It was very necessary,” he said. “I couldn’t play at the level that I’ve played at without changing my body. That was one of the most important things. And it was hard.
“But I know if I want to be great, there are certain things I have to do.”
The NBA has many tales of men whose careers were affected by the inability to control their appetite: Robert Swift, Eddy Curry, John “Hot Plate” Williams, Jerome “Big Snacks” James, Khalid El-Amin and former Warrior Victor Alexander, among others.
Charles Barkley was that rare exception, someone whose bulk did not imprison his talent.
Green opted out before weight had a chance to threaten his career.
“He wanted to show everybody that he could be one of the top players in the NBA,” Dawkins said. “And showing it. He couldn’t do that if . . . do you remember Oliver Miller? The other ‘Big O?’ He had talent, but . . . Dray knew that for him to reach the highest level, everything had to be on point physically.”
Green not only manages his weight but also is one of the league’s most consistently energetic players. He runs the break as a point forward, then sprints back on defense. He takes it upon himself to generate enough energy that it rubs off on his teammates.
All this comes from a guy that two-time Warriors coach Don Nelson, a bench legend who routinely ridiculed players he considered “fat,” almost certainly would not have drafted.
“I always knew he was going to be a star, I saw it when he was a youngster,” Dawkins said. “But I didn’t know he’d become a megastar.
“All that means is the time he put in outside of practice, improving his nutrition, the way he has changed his diet, getting in the gym putting up shots and grinding, has paid off.”
Now that Green has grown accustomed to his physique, which changed for good before July 2015, when he signed a five-year extension worth $82 million, he has gotten used to it. It was, for him, a lifestyle choice that has now become the norm.
“Absolutely,” he said. “You start to look at your body and you see the changes, and you feel good about that. You see the changes on the floor. You feel much better. You have more bounce. You can go longer.”
Green still dabbles in the occasional slice of pizza. It’s a guilty pleasure now, rarely enjoyed and he may never again hang out with Little Caesar at 7:40 in the morning.