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Draymond Green reflects on journey in Michigan State jersey retirement

Draymond Green reflects on journey in Michigan State jersey retirement

EAST LANSING, Mich -- Draymond Green walked into Michigan State's Breslin Student Events Center under unusual circumstances. 

Usually known as a facilitator to the stars, he's prepping for a jersey retirement night reserved all for himself. As he took the microphone, the man with much to say was suddenly at a loss for words. 

"My dream was to play at Michigan State," he said, fighting back tears during a halftime ceremony Tuesday evening. "It was never to get my jersey retired and I lived that dream.”

For years, Green has taken on the role of underdog, from a forgotten place in the Midwest, using that chip to reach the NBA's highest platform. By Tuesday night, his alma mater gave yet another example for how he's come. 

Sixty-seven miles from Tuesday's festivities lays his birthplace. In the 19th century, Saginaw was a thriving center, with an economy built on lumber, leading to a population boom in the late 1800s. When the boom subsided, the automobile boom followed. At the height of the growth, General Motors had 12 plants in the city. 

By the time Green was born in 1990, much of that prosperity vanished. In a 10-year span, the population decreased by nearly 10,000, as the auto jobs disappeared, leading to urban blight throughout the area. 

To make ends meet, Green's mother, Mary, managed three jobs, including a hair salon from inside her home. As his mother worked, her son balled, with a dream to play on the hardwood he was honored on Tuesday evening. His aunt, Annette Babers, was a Spartan, averaging 8.3 points and 7.4 rebounds, ending her senior season blocking 36 shots, as Green looked on most nights from the stands.

The vision was 10 years later, when the "Flintstones", comprised of Flint natives Morris Peterson, Mateen Cleaves and Charlie Bell led Michigan State to a national title in 2000, giving the impoverished Green hope. 

"Growing up in Saginaw, you kind of got this little pocket of Flint and Saginaw where we're up north and you really don't get to Detroit often because you can't really afford to," Green said. "You don't get the Grand Rapids often, or nothing like that, if you really can't afford to.

"There's this kind of connection amongst those two cities. So to see those guys playing there, it just made that real for me."

However, the dream nearly went awry. Despite averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds his senior year at Saginaw High School, his college destination was primed more south. His coach, Lou Dawkins, played collegiately for Tubby Smith at the University of Tulsa, leading Smith to become a frequent visitor to Spartan open practices. Months later, Green -- without an offer from Spartan coach Tom Izzo -- was sold on the Wildcat program.  

"I had went down for a game," Green said. "That's when Joakim Noah was at Florida, and I went down for the game, Florida at Kentucky [ESPN's] College Gameday] was there. And I was just like, 'Yo, this is nuts.'

"It was Kentucky," he added. "I ain't get an offer from Michigan State, this is enough. I'd love to go here. And that's just what it was. I didn't have my number one choice, that's not a bad number two."

Eight months before Green signed his letter of intent, Smith resigned, taking the Minnesota Gophers job, re-opening the forward's recruitment, providing one last chance at his dream school.  

“I got a call from coach Izzo at like 7 o’clock the next morning,” Green said last week. “He was cussing me out. ‘How could you commit to Kentucky?’ I was like, ‘Dude, I didn’t even have an offer from y’all.’ He cussed me out some more. He was like, ‘Yes, the f--- you did. Here’s your f---ing offer if you didn’t think you had one.’"

[RELATED: Dubs video congratulates Draymond on MSU jersey retirement]

Once in Lansing, Green flourished, averaging 10.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 145 games, concluding his career as the school’s all-time leading rebounder (1,096). Along the way, he built a reputation of unapologetically prying, cursing and grinding those around him as he perfected his craft, often at the expense of friendship.

"I took it so seriously," Green said. "I didn't have a bunch of friends. Even in the NBA, I don't have a ton of friends. It's different for me. If you don't got what I got as far as passion goes, as far as the hate for losing that I have, you would never understand it. 

"If you're passionate about this s--t, like I'm passionate about this s--t, we don't bump heads. That's just what it is. If you're not as passionate about this as I am, if you're not as passionate about winning as I am, we're going to bump heads and that's just a fact."

Countless examples back up Green's claim. Last season, Green cursed out teammate Kevin Durant, calling him out during a nationally televised game. Two seasons prior, he got into a heated argument with Warriors coach Steve Kerr during halftime of a matchup against the Thunder, one in which men had to be restrained.

However, his approach endeared him to the organization. 

"You'd rather reign people in than have to kick them," Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. "His force of nature, his personality and his competitiveness is something you cannot corral, but so what. Those are the people that are interesting, that you want to get to know, that you want to know more about -- that are unique.

"His desire is deep." 

Examples of Green's Warriors' lineage were littered around Lansing Tuesday evening. Myers, along with team chairman Joe Lacob, consultant and former teammate Zaza Pachulia and guard Klay Thompson boarded a flight from the Bay Area. Following a game in Atlanta, Kerr and guard D'Angelo Russell joined Green on a private jet to Michigan Monday night. 

Most notable of the travel party is Lacob. Following the most defining moment of Green's career -- when he was suspended for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals -- Lacob wore his jersey courtside at Oracle Arena. The relationship still goes beyond the court.

Last week, before a road game in Salt Lake City, the two had a three-hour impromptu lunch to catch up. 

"There's just a special bond," Lacob said. "I really can't even describe it with you. We're like brothers from different mothers. There's something about him. He's just someone you want to be a part of your organization." 

Green has returned the favor, signing a four-year, $100 million contract extension with the Warriors in August, even giving Lacob inspiration for a jersey retirement celebration for his prized player. 

"That's definitely going to happen," Lacob said Tuesday evening. "As I told him when we were discussing his contract extension, I only have one word to tell you: Statue. To him, that's the ultimate respect, and he knew what I meant.

"Stay with this organization and let's continue building."

As Green prepared to raise his jersey to the top of rafters, he felt a tug from his two-year old namesake, Draymond Jr., bringing to light a conundrum Green is currently facing: Attempting to cultivate a kid with a similar drive under different financial circumstances. 

[RELATED: Draymond gets emotional during MSU jersey retirement]

"I feel like a part of that is just showing him things like that and sharing that moment with him and my daughter," Green said. "They're starting to understand winning or losing, like 'that's a big win.' For them, all they've ever seen in their lives is us winning and so to them like losing really don't make sense.

"I worked my a-- off for them to live a life that I never lived, for them to never see or have the same struggles that I had in my life. That's what my life is about. That's what my grind is about it and to share those moments with them and just let them know, this is your moment.

"This ain't just about me."

As he reconciled his thoughts for the next generation of Greens, he reflected on the kid he used to be, in awe of the man he's become. 

"The book never ends like that," he said. "It just never ends like that. It's the storybook ending, but it never happens."

Will Steph, Klay be on minutes restriction upon return to Warriors?

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NBC Sports Bay Area

Will Steph, Klay be on minutes restriction upon return to Warriors?

Editor’s note: Kerith Burke, NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors reporter, will take you inside the Dubs as only she can each Friday with the Ask Kerith Mailbag. Send her a question on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #askKerith.

Tip-Off

The Warriors are still looking for their 10th win of the season, as their losing streak has grown to 10 consecutive games. The rest of the month is tough. If the playoffs began today, the next six opponents the Dubs play to wrap up January -- Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics -- would be in the postseason. 

The players and coaches are frustrated, and so are fans. I like hearing from you in the mailbag. The most popular questions this week were about when Steph Curry and Klay Thompson might return. 

Game On!

Via instagram, @thebryannolen, @_habizz.walden_pnw, and @renegadegabe all wondered about Steph and Klay and whether they’d have minutes restrictions when they come back. 

Last week’s mailbag contained the update that Steph will be re-evaluated on Feb. 1 and Klay will be re-evaluated during the All-Star break. 

It was encouraging to see Steph and Klay travel with the team during the last road trip, and video from practice shows Steph shooting with his teammates. He was moving side-to-side with the ball in his hands, putting up 3-pointers with ease.

Keep in mind Steph’s re-evaluation date is still two weeks away. He might need more time to recover. When, or if, Steph comes back (and I think it will be when ... late February/early March is my feeling), he’ll probably be eased in slowly, per usual after long-term injuries. A minutes restriction will keep things manageable as he gets his wind back, while he builds chemistry on the floor with his new teammates. 

Klay spoke to reporters on Tuesday. It was the first time we’ve heard from him since Media Day, months ago. 

“I don’t know what’s going to come this season. I would love to get out there,” Klay said.

I think he’s holding out hope he could possibly play late in the season, while understanding it might not happen -- and that could be for the best.

“I’m trying to make sure this type of injury never happens to me again. So, I’ll be very patient because I want to play at a high level until I’m in my late-30s,” Klay added.

The medical staff needs to clear Klay for contact first, and that’s not happening for several weeks -- more likely months.

[RELATED: Watch Klay shoot at Chase Center

@MrHeavyMetaI What are chances Steph, Klay, D Lo and Green play a game together this season?? #askKerith

Because it’s uncertain Klay will play at all this season, I’ll entertain this question by saying a 2 percent chance. There’s wiggle room, but I feel doubtful. Even if all four of them are available toward the end of the season, one of them a night could be load-managed.

@misha1031 Watching the game (on Tuesday), I worried that we are not grasping how weak this team is on the floor (I’m not underestimating the difficulty of what this team is trying to do) In your opinion, how many seasons will it take to find a real core? One seems optimistic.

The Warriors have a core -- it’s Steph, Klay, Draymond Green, and Kevon Looney. Three out of those four have been dealing with long-term injuries. And Draymond is physically and mentally tired. 

There’s a chance D’Angelo Russell will grow into part of the core, but his first year with the team wasn’t what he expected. He deserves space to acclimate to handling a great deal of the scouring output. He’s been slowed by thumb, ankle, and shoulder injuries this season. 

The core is there for next season. Steph and Klay were forced to rest via rehab. Draymond’s obvious frustration this season should ease when he’s alongside the Splash Brothers again. Kevon’s situation of managing his neuropathy is concerning, but until reporters get word that Kevon needs something more than day-to-day management, I choose to be optimistic. 

Barring another season of injuries, the Warriors have their core next year. They also have a collection of young core candidates who have been through the fire this season. Lead by perhaps the best coaching staff in the NBA and an organization with a healthy culture in place, next season should be much better.

@DavidGrisar What is Steve Kerr’s contract status? Did he sign a new deal?

Kerr signed a contract extension in the summer of 2018, and Warriors Insider Monte Poole learned Kerr is expected to coach at least the first two seasons at Chase Center. You can find more details here. 

@TheMattBoyle More likely Steph plays in the Olympics given this will be a less taxing regular season?

For sure. Going from the Finals to the Olympics, for example, would not give Steph a chance to rest and recover. Concerns about recovery kept him out of the 2016 games in Rio. But a deep Warriors playoff run is not the situation this season. Being an Olympian is one honor Steph doesn’t have yet in his career. This summer in Tokyo should change that.

@AnneHarr13 Does the team fly out of SFO now, rather than out of OAK?

Yes. The team practices and plays games in San Francisco, so they fly out of SFO too. 

Via instagram, @mr.blai asks, Where do those boxes of food the players bring to the plane come from? Are they just takeouts from their favorite restaurants? 

There is food everywhere, provided by the team. Those takeout boxes you see contain healthy, catered meals. There’s salad, lean meats, noodles, quinoa, cold cuts, cheeses, smoothies, juices, you name it.

Players will never go hungry. There’s food before take off, on the plane, at practice, and in the locker room pregame and postgame. One of the most popular snacks on hand is the old comfort food, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

High Five

This week’s high five goes to Klay Thompson, who will see his Washington State University number lifted into to the rafters in a jersey retirement ceremony Saturday in Pullman, WA. 

He led the Pac-12 in scoring his junior year before declaring for the draft, and he left the school with the single-season scoring record of 733 points. 

I’ll be in Pullman to cover the ceremony. Stay tuned for interviews, video, and pictures!

Follow Kerith on Twitter @KerithBurke and on Instagram @warriorskerith, and, of course, watch her on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors coverage all season.

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 134-131 OT loss to Nuggets

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 134-131 OT loss to Nuggets

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- Since the calendar flipped to 2020, the Warriors (9-33) have been searching for any sign of positively in a dormant season. They didn't find it Thursday night, losing to the Denver Nuggets 134-131 in overtime at Chase Center. 

The loss marked Golden State's 10th straight, as they fell to 0-9 in overtime games over the last two seasons. The Warriors led the majority of the night, taking a 19-point lead in the second half against the Nuggets (28-12) before squandering it in the fourth quarter. 

Michael Porter Jr. scored 18 points, including the go-ahead bucket with 1:16 to go in regulation. A minute later, Nikola Jokic hit a game-tying hook shot to send the game into overtime, leading to Golden State's latest demise.

Here are the takeaways from a disappointing loss:

Early defense gives way to second-half collapse. 

Golden State entered the game against the Nuggets with one of the worst defensive units in the league, allowing opponents to shoot 47 percent. On Thursday, they held the Nuggets to just 22.7 percent in the first quarter and forced two turnovers. By the end of the first half, Denver made just 15 of 49 (30.6 percent) from the field. 

Along the way, the Warriors outscored Denver in the paint and off the bench, building a 19-point lead. Then the Nuggets woke up, outscoring the 89-69 in the second half and overtime, using a 16-6 run to cut the lead to two in the fourth quarter. Before Porter's fourth-quarter layup, the Nuggets had not led all game. 

It was yet another disappointing turn of events for a Warriors team looking for any signs of development. 

Damion Lee returns with a bang

Lee has been waiting most of his career for a chance to play under a guaranteed deal. On Thursday, he made the most of his new status, finishing with 21 points and six assists in 37 minutes. 

Lee's importance to Golden State is apparent. During his 45 two-way days, he started 13 games, averaging 12.8 points over his last six outings. Upon return, Warriors coach Steve Kerr immediately put him in the starting lineup. 

Based on his new multi-year deal, the Warriors would like Lee to be a long-term piece. The plan was made possible by Lee's hard work. After two ACL tears, countless G League stints, and two two-way deals, he's finally on the long-term stage he deserves. 

Russell struggles again

D'Angelo Russell seemed primed for a tear after his 36-point performance last week in Memphis. After a 6-for-19 performance Thursday evening, those plans seem to be on pause. 

The result didn't seem likely in the first quarter, when Russell scored 10 points, including two 3-pointers in seven minutes. However, he shot 4-of-15 over the final three quarters and overtime. The sequence followed a recent theme for Russell, in which hot starts give way to puzzling finishes. In Tuesday's blowout loss to Dallas, he finished 5-of-17 from the field after making four of his first seven shots. 

Russell has the ability to go on large scoring binges. But with that strength comes occasional off-nights. If Russell can curtail the latter, the Warriors can be dangerous as long as he's on the roster.