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On a Monday morning in Tokyo’s chic Harajuku district, I meet three-time All-Star and three-time champion Draymond Green outside a bustling train station and begin a stroll down the busy, bizarre and impossibly pink Takeshita Street, a shopping haven for the anime-inspired. Never one to shy from contact, the Golden State Warriors’ Mr. Do-It-All peppers the locals with questions about fashion, etiquette and their ubiquitous electronic toilets, which can best be described as a spa for your butt. “It’s next-level,” he says, “but I’m scared to use the spray-up function.”
The residents of Tokyo seem happy to advise the 6-foot-7 tourist but are otherwise oblivious to him. Of the dozens of locals Draymond engages over the next three hours, only one seems to knows who he is. Even a self-identifying Dubs fan had no clue he’d come face to face with the heart, soul, muscle and mouthpiece of his favorite NBA team.
Fresh off a karaoke night that bled into the early morning, Draymond is on the hunt for souvenirs before his red-eye out of Tokyo. He finds what he’s looking for on a street vendor’s rack. “I’m totally wearing this to a game this season,” he says as we divvy up red and green hats recognizable across planet Earth. “I gotta be Luigi. I’m taller.” That means I’m Mario, presumably because I’m short and fat.
We toss the vendor some crumpled Yen and continue to a nearby Owl Café, which is exactly what it sounds like. The shopkeeper leads me to a bench and perches an owl named Gaia on my arm. Draymond never makes it past the reception desk and jump-yelps anytime any living thing makes a move.
ESPN: Are you really gonna stand in the entry way?
GREEN: This is the safest place. Listen, I’m a simple person. I like things that make sense. Quite frankly, chilling with owls just don’t make sense to me. [A staffer brushes past him] Oh, s—!
That’s just a human.
Oh, I thought it was an owl. This is crazy — they’re owls all over the place!
Well, yeah, it’s an owl café. Just be cool, and do as Tokyo people do.
Not this. I’ll eat as Tokyo people eat.
When are you calmest, like this owl?
I’m actually always really calm — just not on the court or in interviews or in an owl shop. Sometimes I’ll ride in the car and not even realize I’m not listening to music. Just quiet. Calm. Thinking. I like to think a lot. Everyone thinks I’m always on 10, no chill. You do anything you can to win, no hard feelings. People take it personally, but who I am as a basketball player is not me as a person.
Any other surprising factoids about Zen Draymond, aside from his fear of little birds?
Something I never leave behind when I’m traveling is candles. They’re incredible. Mango/tangerine-scented.
Before he succumbs to a heart attack, we bounce to a restaurant around the corner, where we order all the sushi in Tokyo, plus a bottle of sake.
What do you think these people think about Americans these days?
We’ve been the laughing stock lately. I don’t think America’s in the best state we’ve ever been in, and it’s great that a lot of people are stepping up and using their voices to help spark change that they believe in. For me, it’s just about the way African-Americans are treated, whether it’s police brutality, a lack of opportunities or the way our school systems are set up. It’s important that the resources that others are given be spread around more equally. That definitely needs to change.
Last year the president rescinded your invite to a White House ceremony that you guys weren’t going to attend anyway. I’m guessing you’re not planning to attend this year?
Under what circumstances would you engage with the president in a conversation about these issues? Or is it just not going to happen with this particular guy?
Thinking about how that conversation would go, it’s kind of pointless. So I don’t see that happening. It’s not something I even consider.
One of my favorite bits about traveling is it gives you a fresh perspective on things back home.
Absolutely. One thing I always take away from traveling is just be open to more stuff. I’m closed off in a bunch of ways. I always think my way is the best way. Hate being wrong. Steve [Kerr] will call a play, and I’m like, “No, let’s run this play.” Sometimes it works, but when it don’t, he’s livid. [Laughs] And just to be a pr—, he calls his play.
And it works?
But I be hoping it don’t. [Laughs]
Steph [Curry] was asked on Bill Simmons’ [podcast] for his favorite Draymond story. He pointed to your beefs with Steve Kerr at practice, which he called “amazing entertainment.”
[Laughs] We used to battle in practice all the time. Steve would be like, “Get off the floor! You’re done!” “I’m not done! I’m not getting off this floor!” Eventually I’d get off, but to be a pr—, I’d just do the Stairmaster courtside, extra hard.
But our relationship is incredible. Definitely in the past we would butt heads a lot — everybody knows about the blowup in OKC [at halftime during their 73-win season], where we had it out in the locker room — but I think I’ve grown up, and also Steve knows me now. He put effort into understanding me, not changing me.
Years from now, when your kids say, “Daddy, tell us about those Warrior teams,” what will you tell them?
That we were great, and I’d explain all the work and sacrifice that went into it, things that could make them great in life.
Do you tell them, “Kids, that was the greatest team of all time”?
For sure. Without a doubt. However, it’s all subjective. Do I think we could beat the ’80s Lakers and the ’96 Bulls? Yes, I think we’d beat them the way the game is played today.
You’re not covering Kareem, bro.
But Kareem isn’t chasing me around the court, either. Yeah, Michael Jordan was probably the greatest, but Jordan can’t shoot the [3-pointer] like Steph. Those teams weren’t built to shoot or defend 3s or get up and down. The way the game is played today, we would’ve beat them. In the game they played then, they probably would’ve beat us.
With Boogie on board, how good can this team be?
I think it can be our best team. It will be. I’m confident in that. He [DeMarcus Cousins] adds an element we never had — a guy you can throw the ball to in the post every play, and he can go get a bucket.
He spoke of your recruiting call to him, where you joked that you guys were going to fight this season.
I did tell him that. It’s probably true. We’re actually really good friends, but I know Boogie, I know myself, and we’ll probably clash at some point. That’s OK. It’s not like Kevin [Durant] and I don’t clash. Whatever happens, we move on and destroy whoever’s next in line.
You do realize how much whining followed his signing, right?
The whole “super team ruining the NBA” don’t bother me one bit because if someone else can do it, they will. I don’t mind being the villain, but no one said we were a super team when I was drafted 35th, Klay [Thompson] was finishing his rookie season, and Steph was trying to prove that he was healthy. No one likes to acknowledge the fact that we were all drafted. All right, we added Kevin, but we’d already won a championship and just played in our second straight [NBA] Finals, losing in seven. We were already pretty damn good.
Much of the negativity has been directed at KD. How do you feel he’s handled it?
I think he’s handled it well. Some have said, “Why is he responding to this person?” But that’s how he wants to handle it. And when he steps on the court, he destroys everybody. That’s what’s important. And the one thing we told him in our [recruitment] meetings was, “Everybody’s gonna have something to say. You’ll never go through anything by yourself.” I think we’ve stood true to that.
Between roster moves and shade thrown, the NBA has the most exciting offseason in sports. What development stopped you mid-scroll on social media?
The KD-CJ McCollum stuff was hilarious. I understand where KD was coming from. His response was almost disbelief: “Damn, bro, I just did your podcast!” [Laughs] Like, I could just hear him saying that. “Damn, bro, I just did your podcast.” Then there was Joel Embiid‘s comment: “Don’t compare Deandre Ayton to me. I play defense.” He’s hilarious.
How do you feel about the Warriors-Cavs rivalry coming to an end?
Honestly, it was over last year. You take away Kyrie, that’s a completely different team. To me, it felt like it was over already.
Is your rivalry with Tristan Thompson over?
Was it ever a rivalry?
We’ve seen conflicting reports about what sparked your scuffle at the ESPYS after-party. Care to set the record straight?
I want people to believe what they want to believe. If you were there, you know. No big deal.
Who’s next in your mind now that the Cavs are done?
I think Boston will be really good — like, really, really, really good. I think Toronto could be good. But the West is tough enough. Houston is still Houston. The Lakers will be much improved.
LeBron’s not changing them overnight.
S—, he changed Cleveland overnight.
They had Kyrie.
I think Kyrie is great, but that was a young Kyrie. And the Lakers got some very good young talent. I think [Brandon] Ingram and Kuz [Kyle Kuzma] will be really good. That second star could possibly be Kuz, just because he fits better with LeBron — he can shoot. But both have that potential.
It’s been said that the Lakers’ remodeled roster of “crazy people” is their answer to you guys. They signed agitators who can get under your skin and create offense for themselves, even if they can’t shoot. Do you feel they’re onto something?
I mean, it’s definitely a completely different route and logic than LeBron’s previous teams. We’ll see. But as far as getting under our skin, they’ve been trying that for four years. S— ain’t no different. “Bully them. Be physical.” It ain’t worked. So good for you.
Well, they certainly aren’t going to out-trash-talk you. You’re already in the Trash Talk Hall of Fame. Steph says you’re even shade-throwing at practice.
I love talking junk to Steph. I yell at him all the time: “He too little, I’m locking that up. He can’t shoot, he a baby!” Sometimes he gets mad!
Teach me how it’s done.
You’re supposed to be the best trash-talker in the game.
I am the best trash-talker in the game, but it’s spur of the moment. For instance, the Paul Pierce thing that got a lot of pub, when I told him, “You ain’t Kobe. There ain’t gonna be no farewell tour!” He was yapping from the start: “Kill him, Blake [Griffin]! He too little! He too little!” So I’m like, “Yo. Shut up. Like, that’s not true. That’s proven to not be true.” He kept yapping, so finally I’m like, “Yo” — and it just came out. I didn’t plan it. I’m not going into a game thinking about Paul Pierce.
Who’s impervious to trash talk?
The guy I’d never waste my breath on? Tim Duncan. As a rookie, I tried talking junk to Tim, and he was like a tree staring back at me. [Laughs] No expression. I said, “All right. It’s over.” Never talked junk to him again. After that, anytime he fell, I’d be the first person to help him up, like I was his teammate. [Laughs] I also tried talking junk to Kobe [Bryant], maybe my second year. On a potential game winner, Mark Jackson put me in to guard him, and I got the stop. I said, “Yeah, I’m locking that s— up!” He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “That miss ain’t got nothing to do with you. Sit down.” I said, “Oh, s—! All right, I’m out.”
You’re heading to another unofficial Hall: the Hall for guys who don’t give two F’s as far as how they’re perceived by the outside world.
Still, how do you think you’re perceived?
I think I’m perceived as a pr—. [Laughs] Which is funny to me. I’m OK with you thinking I’m a pr— because that means you 100 percent don’t know me.
Well, you’re also perceived as the engine of an all-time team. What’s that responsibility like?
I’m perceived as that by some, and by some I’m perceived as the guy who gets carried by All-Stars. [Laughs] One of the most important things for any successful team or business is understanding your role. That’s my role. I am the engine, the guy who brings the energy, the vocal leader, and I embrace that. But it’s tough. I’m not allowed to have off-days.
Does the engine run too hot sometimes?
Can you control that fire, or do you have to let it burn and accept the occasional outburst as a necessary evil?
I think I’ve done a better job of channeling it. I don’t want to control it. It’s what makes me who I am. If you think I’m great, that’s what makes me great. If that’s what’s going to give me an edge over the guy in front of me, why control it?
Do you have any regrets?
How does the 2016 Finals suspension sit with you?
I don’t regret it because if it happened again, I’d do the same exact thing. I’m a man, and that’ll always take precedence over any basketball game. I’ll put it like this: If you’re in your office working, in the position that I was in, getting up off the floor, and I walked in your office and stepped over your shoulder, your reaction is probably going to be [shoves his forearm into the sky]. So I was in my office. Someone stepped over me. [Makes the same motion.] Period.
Do you believe you cost your team a title?
Yeah, I do. It changed the series for sure. But I also don’t think we would’ve won these last two [championships] if we won that one. Everything happens for a reason, and I learned so much from that. It helped shape who I am today. But I take the blame for it. It’s OK.
How will this dynasty end?
Klay and Kevin are free agents next year. I’m a free agent in 2020. What decisions will we make? Let’s wait and see. But if we stay together, only old age will get us — and not anytime soon.
The thinking is you or KD will be the first headliner to bounce because you’re due for a significant raise in ’20 and because if KD doesn’t win elsewhere, he’ll be seen as the bandwagon-jumper.
That’s crazy. He’s got two Finals MVPs.
What about you? You left $12 million on the table on your last deal.
I’m not sure how it plays out, but I think I’m in the best position out of everybody. Steph was up, now Klay and Kevin are up. That gives me the opportunity to see what everyone else does. And quite frankly, if I am the first to bounce, unless it’s in 2020, it wouldn’t be my decision. I can get traded. But I’m last. I should be the least of everyone’s worries.
Do you want to retire as a Warrior?
I’d love to. When you look around the league today, how many guys have been with one team? Kobe, Dirk [Nowitzki], Duncan, Manu [Ginobili]. It don’t happen like that anymore. That’d be amazing. But at the end of the day, it’s a business. Let the cards fall how they may.
We inhale our sushi and venture down the street to our final stop: the picturesque, tree-lined grounds of the Meiji Shrine, home since 1920 to the deified spirits of Emperor and Empress Meiji.
You play the 5 for a small-ball team. You’ve logged a lot of playoff minutes. How many years do you have in you?
I want to go 15. Nine more. The playoff minutes add up, but I’ve been taking care of my body, doing different stuff with lifting this summer.
When you hang up your sneakers, how do you hope you’ll be remembered?
When I leave this game, I want them to say, “That guy was a winner.” That’s been my goal forever.
So you do give two F’s about how you’re remembered, at least.
But that’s legacy-type s—. Day to day, I don’t give a f— what anybody thinks. When it comes to legacy, you should care about perception, and I want to be remembered as a winner and as the best defender ever. Not many players in NBA history can dominate a game from the defensive end like I can. And I can put a number on this goal: I want five defensive player of the year awards. Ben Wallace got four, and when he presented my first one to me, he said, “That’s cool, but you got three more to go.” So that’s the goal: five.
How many rings do you have on your wish list?
I mean, three titles was tough, and six is absurd, but obviously, we all grew up wanting to be like Mike. So to eclipse that number? That’s crazy, but I’d love to do it. Seven would be amazing.
Last question: Steph gave his favorite Dray story. What’s Dray’s favorite Steph story?
Let me think of one that protects his image. [Laughs] My favorite Steph story goes back to the beginning of all of this, right before our first title. We were in Memphis, down 2-1. Steph wasn’t playing well, and it felt like the world was collapsing on us. So he was in his room, doing nothing, and I called him: “Hey, let’s go get a drink.” “All right, cool.” So we go to Blues City Cafe, drink a bunch of drinks, eat a bunch of garbage and have a bunch of fun. And we won the next three. That moment was the beginning of our run, where it could have gone all the way left. We just needed to just get away from the game.
Then we’re in Cleveland, down 2-1 in the first Finals. Steph was struggling, so I took a bottle of wine to his room. So it’s just me and Steph, in his room, crushing a whole bottle of wine — and we won the next three.
Those are the moments I’ll never forget. That’s my guy, man.