Chances are, you've coached a difficult player in your career. Chances are, he wasn't near as difficult as Draymond Green.
Green, the former Michigan State and current Golden State Warriors forward, is difficult in the right way. Prideful and headstrong, Green is regarded as the smartest player ever coached by everyone who's ever coached him -- and also the most competitive. He's the type of player that would get kicked out of a Finals games for too many extracurricular hits, and then come back and throw up 32 points, 15 points and 9 assists in the biggest game of his life. On a team headlined by two of the best scorers of their generation, Green became the Warriors' backbone through being the best at everything else -- defense, rebounding, passing and basketball smarts.
When things are right, he's the type of player that pushes the Warriors over the top, into an indestructible basketball machine that destroys everything in its path. When things aren't right, Green is liable to destroy the Warriors from within.
That's the setting for Howard Beck's long profile for Bleacher Report on the relationship between Green and Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. The story begins on Feb. 27, 2016, with the Warriors trailing the Oklahoma City Thunder by 11 points at halftime. Beck begins the story by describing ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters's dispatch from the Golden State locker room:
It was Feb. 27, 2016, halftime of a nationally televised game between the Warriors and Thunder.
The player was Draymond Green. His words, as relayed by Salters, were pointed. His target was coach Steve Kerr.
"I am not a robot! I know I can play! You have me messed up right now! If you don't want me to shoot, I won't shoot the rest of the game!"
"At one point, people were trying to get him to sit down, from what I could hear," Salters reported that night. "And he was daring people, threatening people: 'Come sit me down!'"
In that moment, the Warriors—defending champions, national darlings, presumed dynasty-in-the-making—appeared positively fragile.
The Warriors recovered from there, setting an NBA record with 73 regular season wins before memorably falling to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals. Golden State added Kevin Durant that offseason and rolled forward through the 2017 season. But, in February, the relationship between Kerr and Green hit another rough patch. Kerr benched Green during a win over the Brooklyn Nets.
"He was bitching at me," Kerr said. "He was pissed about whatever was going on in the game. I don't even remember. I was pissed at him. And it just felt like, you know what, let's not talk here for the rest of the game."
So as the Warriors started a 5-game East Coast road trip, Kerr wrote Green a letter. The full contents of the letter are not known, because Green read only the first line and threw the rest away. The first line was all he needed to see. Beck writes:
When Green opened the letter, he read only the first couple of lines. It said, in effect: I love you and respect you. I know you're hurting. We need to talk.
"I didn't read another sentence," Green says. "I stopped. Threw the letter away. … That first sentence told me everything that I needed to know—he get it. He get it, he get me, I'm good. Whatever anger, or whatever it was that was built up in me is gone. He get it!"
Golden State did not win the next game, but Green played 40 minutes that night, scoring 14 points, dishing 14 assists and grabbing eight rebounds. The Warriors cruised to the 2017 title and look to defend their championship in a rematch with the Cavs starting on Thursday.
"I wanted him to understand that I understood that it's a difficult time of the year," Kerr said. "He knows how much I love him and how much I respect him. That was probably the first line. And then it was probably basketball stuff: Here's where you can make an impact. Here's how powerful you are to our team. As you go, the team goes. Something like that. But it's always gotta come from the heart, it's always gotta be more on a personal level than a basketball level."
If you've ever wondered how to reach a difficult player, this article is for you.