There is only one narrative worth paying attention to in the 2017 NBA Finals and it comes straight out of Saginaw waving his arms, flapping his gums… and, most recently, knowing when enough is enough.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

The storylines of the 2017 NBA finals are few and less than creative.

It basically boils down to a familiar trio of:

  1. This is the first time in history we’ve been treated to a third-straight finals featuring the same two squads. Some fans (i.e. those who cheer on the 28 other teams) are complaining that this is a reflection of the league’s favoring of certain franchises. I say, look at the teams in question and their origin cities (Cleveland/Oakland) to debunk all that. It just happens to be the most two talented squads, maybe ever, were former perennial bottom-feeders. If this was a tilt between the Lakers-Celtics, volume three would be touted as history-defining Gods vs. Goliaths, a trilogy for the ages, the Best of the West vs. the Monsters of the East etc.
  2. This is Kevin Durant’s second shot at a title and first legitimate one. When he made it to the show with OKC in 2012 the Thunder had a trio of NBA greats not quite ready for prime-time. The most established was KD (23), the star on the rise but still experiencing turbulence was Westbrook (23) and the one nobody saw coming, later sent one-way to Houston, James Harden (22), was barely getting 30 minutes and 10 looks per game. Juxtapose that with the Miami Heat’s Big 3, also starring LeBron James, who were in their prime. The Thunder were lucky to steal one from the Heat and the series was among the lowest-rated in NBA Finals history. This time, KD’s the one who hitched his wagon to a juggernaut. The former MVP is a perennial favorite of the league’s front office and though he won’t get anywhere near the volume of calls (or as the case may be, non calls) as James, expect the refs and league officials to call a more even series this year.
  3. …Which brings us to Draymond Green. Because, Draymond Green. Each series, Green has been increasingly impactful. As an out-of-nowhere (unless you were a Warriors fan) former second rounder coming off his first year as a starter during the team’s first championship run in 2015, Green was known as an imposing physical presence, a team spark plug and a grinder in a present-day supporting/James Worthy-type role. Last year he morphed into a Dennis Rodman-type. A bad boy who got T’d up with such frequency in the playoffs that the league felt it was time to flex its muscles on him, suspending the Warriors’ heart and soul for a deciding game 5. The Warriors went on to get Green back but lose the series at home in seven …To Be Continued as they say after Tom Hanks kicked the Fonz’s ass.

Green has never fully forgotten about being forced to sit last finals and while he’s been conspicuously silent about the matter of the suspension this season, giving a dismissive shrug and predictable eye roll when he is baited by the press, it’s there. It’s with him Every. Single. Game.

Soft-spoken Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who is still sidelined with a possible career-ending back injury—one that required surgery when these playoffs started—is still outspoken about his team even if it’s in minutes-long spurts with press.

Kerr was a surprise guest at the Memorial Day Warriors shoot around. He even made himself available for a few questions (acting head coach Mike Brown was home nursing the flu …or maybe, since it was the end of a three-day weekend, the “flu.”) During his limited time, Kerr delivered the answer the press had been seeking all season with regards to Green. His body is healthy, but is his mind right? “I’ve never seen [him] in a better place emotionally,” he said. “…Still playing with rage, desire and force, but totally under control.”

Those last three words: Totally. Under. Control.

Write it on your penboard at work. Sharpie them across a heather gray Hanes Beefy-T. Find a font that’s not comic sans and get a script tattoo of it on your forearm. Because this is the Draymond Green we’ve been waiting three finals to witness.

Because we’re a nation of short-term memory… case in point, anyone remember this?

…It’s important to note that Green’s hot-headedness did not just end in the Finals. On July 11, he slapped the face of a Michigan State football player after a late-night altercation that resulted in his arrest during a quick trip to East Lansing.

Green was then preparing for the Brazil Games with wingman Klay Thompson and future teammate Durant and didn’t need any drama or negative exposure—fortunately, Ryan Lochte took care of all that.

Fellow Spartan Magic Johnson stepped in immediately and tweeted that Green was “very apologetic to the Warriors organization, fans and everyone involved” in the wake of the incident.

After that initial comment, Johnson added, “Known Draymond since he was a freshmen at MSU, he’s a good person w/ a big heart and he continues to give back to youth around the country!”

…But there were other wheels turning beyond the sympathetic tweets. Green and Magic’s relationship is well-known and well-chronicled, but it is a not-so-secret secret that in the wake of that incident Magic shepherded Green with his top squad including sports psychologists, financial planners and PR peeps… no word whether Arsenio was deployed.

The results from then to present-day have been tangible. Green on the court and in front of the media is more measured, in control. He continues his workaday approach but also seems, well, more approachable.

The handling of business off the court has also led to a better Green on it. Thus far this postseason, Green has been nothing short of dialed, focused and undistracted. Compare this year’s version to the 2016 Green, the one who came into the finals with six technicals, questionable range and on-again/off-again defensive brilliance and there is, well, no comparison.

Last year, even with a shaky Green, the team was up 2-1 against the Cavs. Then it happened: Green lashed out and hit LeBron James in the groin after the pair tussled and tumbled to the ground. The Warriors went on to win the game to go up 3-1, but Green was suspended for a Flagrant 1 foul for all that meshugas topped by striking James.

…And the rest, is, well NBA Finals history.

***

The branding component of a superstar can reach eye-rolling heights (StephMojis anyone?), yet somehow Green’s tongue firmly in cheekiness makes it all palpable. Look no further than his recent trademarking of the phrase, “Dray Day” for use on everything from cell-phone cases to backpacks to fitness equipment to podcasts.

Green’s “Dray Day” podcast launched this season co-hosted by Bay Area News Group columnist Marcus Thompson, and is run through Uninterrupted—a network that Green has an ownership stake in with… you guessed it, LeBron James. It’s actually pretty effing funny and insightful and sets Green up for a long career long after his last hip check has been meted. As long as Green stays away from Earth-is-flat subject matter, we’re all good.

This season, Draymond Green grew up and became a member of the league’s elite. He has made a concerted effort to play (and brand) his brand of physical and aggressive defense but left the jawing on the sidelines and in the locker room.

While he let his Draymond Green-ness get the better of him at times this regular season (his 15 technicals were one shy of a one-game suspension), he also knew when to pull back at the right time. Even casual Warriors observers witnessed Green turning the literal other cheek and taking his gripes back to the bench rather than spackling opponents’ and refs’ faces with his spittle.

With Game 1 of the Finals looming Thursday at Oracle Arena, Green ranks third in the league this postseason in blocks, sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio, seventh in assists and tied for 12th in rebounding. His 13.9 points per game are up 3.7 points from his regular-season average.

He is shooting an otherworldly 47.2 percent beyond the arc.

“He’s in a good spot, obviously,” Kerr said Monday. “He’s playing out of his mind.”

The only question is now, for Kerr, the team and the rest of the league, frankly, is Draymond Green ready to join his mentor in the circle of elite performers on the sport’s biggest stage? He’s set up only for success and has but to execute. If he does, it truly will be Dray’s Day.

Andrew J. Pridgen helps run sister site Goner Party and is the author of the novella “Burgundy Upholstery Sky”. His first full-length novel will be released in late-2017.

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