Draymond Green’s antics against Celtics are actually art

Draymond Green can be annoying. This isn’t exactly breaking news. It is in fact, perhaps the opposite of breaking news. It’s broken news. Dead news. You’ve heard it before, you know it to be true, you’ve made your peace with it. He’s too cocky, too opinionated, too lackadaisical. Announcers discovered the latter word in 2012 and have loved to throw it at Draymond in a blowout whenever they get the chance. 

We all hold our breaths when Draymond’s chin-wagging with referees gets a little too heated. We cringe when he plays out of control. You know in your bones that his performances in high-stakes games can feel like a wild roll of the dice, a coin toss against a cosmos still somewhat indebted to the rule of law. To be perfectly blunt, Green hasn’t even been consistently great in these playoffs. In fact, he’s often been pretty bad. But in performances like Game 2, what came before doesn’t matter for a while. Because the outsider artist returned to drop a disruptive masterpiece at the exact right moment.

We’ve watched Green terrorize players to the brink of sanity, incessantly jaw at relatively calm referees and feed off the hatred of opposing crowds. This is all relatively boilerplate stuff for the emotional leader of any team, but in Green’s case, it historically infuriates all the wrong people, even as we, who love him, can take it or leave it, depending on the situation at hand. Except, we can’t leave it, because we know the “antics” as they are sometimes dubbed, comprise the intrinsic source code wired into his being. When your other two team leaders have the personalities of a kindly substitute teacher (Stephen Curry) and a travelling vape salesman (Klay Thompson) desperate measures are required. But Draymond Green isn’t a brute or a one-dimensional enforcer, though the Warriors have always trended toward the goonish side of the ledger. He’s not even a dirty player – who has he injured in 10 years? He’s an artist with an outlaw’s spirit who at his best makes antics into transcendence. Yes, that can be annoying to digest in the context of 48 minutes of any given basketball game. But what’s worse? The artist that ruffles feathers or the petulant haters who seek to censor art they find distasteful?

Everyone is entitled to their own petty grudges. At the moment, Boston Celtics fans are unquestionably flustered by Green. That means he’s doing his job. There are also likely Celtics fans (maybe six or seven of them) who, perhaps recognizing their own team employs the services of Marcus Smart, realize it’s all in the game so to speak. Individually, it makes perfect sense a human being with skin in the game might take umbrage to Green.

But taken together, the anti-Draymond chorus has a familiar, unpleasant musk. It’s a reactionary blob of dark impulses and tattle-tale hankerings. The overriding spirit is that of the police station. Fervent Nextdoor users. The Washington Post. People obsessed with micro-fairness at the expense of societal harmony. The “shut up and dribble” crowd. Dave Portnoy, about whom the less is said the better. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Boston Globe assigned Spotlight to investigate Draymond Green’s crimes against decency and good taste. What’s amusing is, that it’s been 10 years, and people still get deep in their feelings about Green, despite the fact that it’s clear he feeds off these very reactions! He gains power from the anti-Draymond hysteria, even or especially when it’s peddled by usually relatively astute observers of the human condition.

We said it before, we’ll say it again! Green is often annoying! So what? He’s strategically annoying. He’s a thinking man, not a boor. His agitation is not whimsy. He made his fortune in this game by making things happen not just by his manifold basketball prowess, but by with his contrarian impulses, making water into Four Loko so to speak. 

It’s a funny feeling, the start of a new playoff series. And I admit, it’s been a while, but it’s all been rushing back. All at once everyone seems to have misremembered the specific misery of playing against Draymond Green and like clockwork, completely overreacted to it. The man’s CV in the league spans a decade. There’s nothing new to be learned, and the histrionic grumbling continues to say less about him and more about the #ArrestDraymond movement.

If anything, Green’s two-year sabbatical from the NBA playoffs only nurtured and grew his already considerable public persona. Far from receding into the background, Green was almost certainly even more of an unavoidable presence (ambient or otherwise) for most NBA enthusiasts during Golden State’s onerous slog back to mainstream relevance. First, as a contributor to everyone’s absolute favorite Boomer prestige television program, Inside the NBA, breaking a sort of fourth wall as an analyst/active playoff participant. Then there is The Draymond Green Show, a veritable bonanza of content, though your mileage may vary. The podcast is something of a passion project. When Green walks into the tunnel at halftime, you nearly expect a new episode to drop before the third quarter starts. The man has thoughts. On literally everything. That’s the Draymond Green Promise. His unique vantage as both player and pundit transposes an extra layer of reality on the proceedings, a painting of Draymond Green watching himself answer mailbag questions. 

So, Game 2 and all the simmering outrage. Celtics legend Cedric Maxwell telling us how he really feels was only the tip of the spear. How about the screenshots, gifs, Zapruder film meticulously breaking down every supposed infraction all in service of getting him sent to an NBA dungeon? The sheer number of voices calling for his ejection on Sunday night was embarrassing. Ejection for what? Tugging very slightly on Jaylen Brown’s shorts? My word, he should be ostracized from polite society for that! Or was it his obnoxious behavior toward the refs? What, you people all of a sudden like referees now? You’re worried they can’t withstand slight pushback from a grown man? I thought it was a universally agreed upon desire amongst NBA fans that the best referees are the referees that let the players play. Especially in the Finals! Referees that show restraint, aren’t trigger-happy and don’t force themselves into the narrative of the game. Green is a trailblazer in this regard. He’s pushing the envelope for you! A light touch should be normalized. No ticky-tack fouls. Confidence in the no-call. Yes, the Celtics got a rough whistle early in Game 2, but that’s not why they lost. You don’t lose by twenty points because of a rough whistle, not in the NBA Finals. They lost because Draymond Green did what he did best. He took a blank canvas, threw a bunch of mud on it and sold it for a million dollars to someone who understands art doesn’t have to be, and perhaps shouldn’t be, pretty.

It’s natural to lean into your power more as the stakes get higher. The best singers aren’t the ones with perfect pitch; sometimes you have to let it rip. With Draymond Green, we’ve always taken the good with the bad because we know the good is very good, and if it’s not exactly righteous, it’s in no way immoral or dishonorable, and we know also that it’s a good worth loudly defending from the thin-skinned Neighborhood Watch caucus, in whatever current configuration they’ve taken shape. We can of course forgive Anna Horford, who is just being a good sibling. At the moment, it’s likely this movement is dominated by people with faded shamrock tattoos on pale shins, but that’s the beauty of Draymond Green. The ire travels well.

Being annoying isn’t a crime. With Draymond Green, it’s (sometimes) a virtue. What detractors call “antics” we call the artwork of the foxhole. He’s the guy you want next to you when your back is against a wall and everybody knows it. Even the haters know it. Especially the haters, probably.

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