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Lakers’ Danny Green finds ways to connect, in locker room and behind a mic

  • After being traded from San Antonio to Toronto last year, where he said off-court media pursuits were discouraged, Danny Green went full steam ahead with his “Inside the Green Room” podcast, which co-host Harrison Sanford had pitched to him the previous summer. (@GreenRoomInside/Twitter)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 25: Danny Green #14 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to his foul during a 95-86 Lakers win over the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on October 25, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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  • The Lakers hope veteran guard Danny Green’s shooting can be a key piece to the puzzle as they pursue an NBA title. Green has won two before, with San Antonio and Toronto. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Lakers guard Danny Green fields questions during the team’s media day in September in El Segundo. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Lakers’ Danny Green (14) celebrates sinking a basket as Dallas Mavericks’ Kristaps Porzingis (6) stands nearby during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Harrison Sanford, left, and Lakers guard Danny Green record an early episode of the “Inside the Green Room” podcast, which they started last year when Green was playing for the Toronto Raptors. (@GreenRoomInside/Twitter)

  • Lakers guard Danny Green fields questions during the team’s media day in September in El Segundo. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers’ Danny Green (14) reacts after making a three-point basket against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Sharp-shooting Lakers guard Danny Green might be the glue that can hold a team together, but he also represents a bond in that space between NBA star and NBA fan – a unique personality who has room to engage both and move seamlessly between those audiences. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

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LOS ANGELES — Before setting off, Danny Green peered at the small group huddled around him, attempting to lend them an ounce of his easy confidence. He gave the impression that he had delivered a version of this speech before.

“Y’all good, nobody get too scared,” he said. “We’re gonna make sure nobody gets lost.”

One more thing: “And make sure everybody uses the bathrooms before we go.”

His audience, a rapt and nervous group of about a dozen teenage boys, nodded their heads. They were ready to follow.

It was a week before Halloween, and Green, on one of his off-nights, had agreed to spend the evening on a Haunted Hayride with 4WRD Progress, a community organization in Watts that provides youth a safe haven through basketball. The 6-foot-6 Lakers guard was among the first to climb into the straw-covered bed being pulled by a tractor, gleefully rattling the cinematic inspirations – “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Day of the Dead” and more – for each scare along the trip.

The ride ended, naturally, in a cemetery, where the wagon emptied. Occupants were expected to walk through the graveyard.

Several of the boys were determined to speed through the spookily lit tombstones and the waiting actors, made up with fake blood and rot, ready to spring out from behind them. Green lumbered behind, his gait stiffened from the strain of scoring 28 points in his Lakers debut the night before. The group started to splinter, but then Green’s voice carried over the ominous, atmospheric music.

“Everyone’s seen what happens if you split up in a scary movie, right?”

In seconds, the boys had collapsed back onto Green, inching forward in tight formation. They were hopeful that sticking together would be a better strategy for facing the ghouls and zombies than drifting apart.

And bringing people together is something, one could convincingly argue, that Green understands as well as anyone.

PEOPLE PERSON

Here’s what happens when you ask people about Danny Green: They smile.

LeBron James cheerfully calls him by his nickname, “Deadshot,” a comic book character whose image Green has tattooed on his arm. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, naturally skewers a question, but goes on to say he feels “very close to Danny, and we miss him.” As early as last November, months after acquiring Green in a trade, Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse felt comfortable enough to call Green “our glue.” North Carolina coach Roy Williams returns a reporter’s call hours before tip-off on a game day, because “if this is for Danny Green, I’ll do it.”

Green, 32, inspires a certain kind of respect for his professionalism. Coaches want to coach him, stars want to play with him, and front offices want to add him to their rosters. But the same things that make him a respected player – honesty, openness and an easygoing charm – make him the kind of NBA player who fans see as a peer, living alongside them.

Green is the kind of person who prefers to walk through the front door of a restaurant, even in Toronto where he was liable to be mobbed by punchdrunk Raptors fans this summer. A small gesture stood out to Marc Maye and Devan Terry, the founders of 4WRD Progress, when they watched a Lakers practice from a balcony this season: Green was the one player who seemed to personally acknowledge them from down below, issuing a short salute.

“When I was at North Carolina, I learned a lot of that Southern hospitality,” said Green, who grew up in Long Island. “You just want to make everyone feel welcome and at home.”

The idea of Green as an everyman has been enhanced by his sudden willingness to open himself up on his podcast, “Inside the Green Room with Danny Green.” The first episode was recorded less than two days after he was traded from San Antonio to Toronto last summer.

In July during a tense first week of free agency, thousands kept up with co-host Harrison Sanford as he and Green parsed, online, how he felt about various suitors, including the Lakers, Mavericks and Raptors, as well as his uncertainty as the entire NBA waited for Kawhi Leonard to make his decision. Anyone tuning in was offered a rare portrait of an in-demand free agent pouring out his heart out during a defining moment in his career.

These are cloak-and-dagger dealings that often feel obscured, even for dedicated NBA fans. Green is determined, within reason, to peel back the curtain.

“It was different, man, it was different,” he said. “It was all those unspoken things that you don’t really let people in on. You feel like organizations, teams, players don’t want to let people know or see or be able to go through that process. … Once you put it out there, you don’t know how people are gonna take it.”

People have taken well to it. As much as Danny Green might be the glue that can hold a locker room together, he also represents a bond in that space between NBA star and NBA fan – a unique personality who has room to engage both and move seamlessly between those audiences. Whether it’s helping a team win a title or taking a group of boys through a haunted maze, Green is equipped for both.

“What Danny Green is, is really a good person,” Williams said, “And he happens to really like people.”

FORMING CONNECTIONS

In that first week of July, Sanford didn’t sleep. As the NBA universe stood on edge, he streamed episodes of “Stranger Things” to pass the time and stay awake.

Sanford had a specific role: Stay atop anything and everything with Danny Green, who he’s known since high school. He had spent the last year building up “Inside the Green Room” and now faced his toughest challenge yet – keeping listeners and fans up to date on Green’s free agency decision.

He and his producer, Amjed Osman, talked to Green and Green’s agent throughout the sleepless days, poring over news and selectively figuring out what they could share with listeners. On July 4, they did a podcast with Green weighing teams that were interested and gauging his state of mind. Moments after Green’s deal was down, the podcast account released a video of Green talking about his decision to join the Lakers.

None of it would have been possible, Sanford said, without Green being willing to shed light on what’s typically a secretive process.

“He knew how important it was, but I knew how nerve-wracking it could be for him,” he said. “It was a very intriguing time for sure, because I was getting a wealth of information, but it was like, ‘How much can I release? And how much do I have to keep to myself?’”

Green has spent much of the last year in the public light. After being traded from San Antonio, where he said off-court media pursuits were discouraged, Green went full steam ahead with the podcast, which Sanford had pitched to him the previous summer.

Green had already been interested enough in the media realm that he had taken the Sportscaster U. course at Syracuse University. The idea of starting a podcast – even though Green admits he doesn’t regularly listen to them himself – had a certain career appeal, but he also felt it would give NBA fans a different perspective on players.

“I think a lot of the stuff we do or show on different platforms, we’re normal guys,” he said. “Some of the stuff we do, people can relate to, whether we like movies or shows, things we do off the court. We’re all normal guys, and I think that’s why people are interested about us and support us through the good and bad days on the court.”

The initial interest in the podcast’s first episode was based almost completely on the trade intrigue – listeners tuned in to hear Green’s insights on why he and Leonard had gone to Toronto (of which Green admits he had little). But the gradual rhythm of the show has become less newsy yet more familiar: stories of his dogs, his girlfriend, team hijinks, his experiences of Canada. He brought on guests, including teammates Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakim as well as a future teammate in Kyle Kuzma.

More and more people started to stop Green out in the world, at the grocery store, getting gas and elsewhere to chat about his latest podcast episode. And that was really the point.

“The goal of the podcast, at the end of the day,” Sanford said, “is to make everybody feel like they’re friends with a basketball player.”

That’s not to say the podcast is not work. Osman and Sanford spend a lot of their time with Green figuring out what might be a good podcast topic, making observations that Green himself might not think of. They also take notes on Green’s candor: Over time, he’s worked on reducing verbal fillers – “like” or “umm” – and while he used to spoil an anecdote from the very start, he’s built up his storytelling chops.

“You try to work on those things,” Green said. “Getting better with your words and painting a picture and making a visual for people.”

There are definitive boundaries, Green said. He doesn’t wish to cross “locker room lines,” which he describes as internal drama, family or home issues and other sensitive topics. He clears most discussion points with his guests ahead of time and wants to respect their privacy above all. That’s where being a good teammate comes into play.

“You don’t want to portray any bad stuff in the media about any organizations or vice versa,” he said. “You don’t want to leave any bad blood with anybody. You talk about certain things you talk about with trades and some stuff, let’s talk about it, but be professional about it.”

That’s not to say what remains is dull: On a recent podcast after the Raptors’ championship parade, Green talked about how he knew Marc Gasol was too drunk to speak on the microphone because he bit him while the team was on stage.

The podcast has changed sponsors – new episodes will be produced by Spectrum and a new NBPA network that will support player podcasts. Inside the Green Room is one of the NBPA’s first ventures. Sanford and Osman moved to Los Angeles to keep the podcast going: Their first episode of the season was scheduled to feature Dwight Howard.

Lakers assistant Phil Handy, who has been a guest on the podcast, thinks it’s a natural extension of who Green is: someone who can connect.

“Most of these guys are pretty humble, but Danny has a good feel for just being able to connect with people, being able to talk outside of basketball,” Handy said. “Whenever you have a guy who’s able to articulate and connect with kids and adults, people are really attracted to that.”

RELATABLE CHAMPION

Green knows what it’s like to be the man on the bench – that’s where he first caught a whiff of fame.

For the first three years he spent at North Carolina, Green came off the bench. This was not easy for a consensus top-50 recruit and McDonald’s All-American coming out of St. Mary’s in Manhasset, New York. But instead of wallowing in the angst of coming off the bench or transferring, Green did something else that made him relatively notorious: He danced.

Before games, Green became the guy on the bench who would hype up his teammates with shoulder-weaving, leg-kicking dances. House of Pain’s “Jump Around” eventually became an anticipated tradition at the Dean Dome – Green even did a quick number after his senior game speech.

Williams credits Green with being a forerunner to bench celebrations that are now ubiquitous throughout all levels of basketball. He thinks it might’ve been hard for Green to persevere in the current generation of college hoops, where transfers are more frequent. But the role Green had in his first three years was the role the Tar Heels needed him to fill: valuable off-the-bench contributor and arena hype man.

“Danny Green wanted to be a better basketball player, and he thought he could get better, and he did get better,” Williams said. “He was a good shooter, he became a great shooter. All that dancing stuff? Danny started that. When he became a senior, actually, I told him: ‘You get to choose now. ‘You want to start, or do you want to keep dancing?’ And he said, ‘Coach, I think I’ll start.’”

Coaches say Green is the kind of player who naturally tailors his role to what is needed. These days he’s a 3-and-D wing, arguably the most coveted role player position in the NBA, but back when Handy first met Green in 2011 when both were with the G-League’s Reno Bighorns, Green was a 20 point-per-game scorer.

But even for the easygoing Green, learning how to fit in the NBA was a hard-learned lesson. He was cut from Cleveland’s roster after a year and just 20 games. He was picked up by the Spurs, and then cut again after just two games.

Williams can say now: Popovich and Green didn’t get along at first. He had to do some work to repair initial negative impressions between one of his favorite players and a close coaching friend.

“There was a time Danny gave Pop the feeling that he was doing Pop a favor,” Williams said. “Both of us blessed him out, Danny went back and Danny changed. Pop recognized that, and Pop recognized that he was important to his team, not holding that first attitude against him.”

Landing in San Antonio turned out to be a blessing: Green credits being around Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili as being influential to his locker room persona. He learned how to be a professional, he improved the skill sets that have made him a valuable NBA player, and he won championships.

When Green was traded to Toronto in 2017 with Leonard – he’s jokingly called himself “The Other Guy in the Trade” on his podcast – he had an immediate role. Handy, one of the assistants on that staff, said the calm demeanor of Green and Leonard had a huge influence on the run to the NBA Finals, especially when the Raptors were down 2-0 to the Milwaukee Bucks in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.

It was like, ‘No need to panic – they won two games at home,’” Handy recalled. “The calmness he brings to the locker room, just: ‘We’re good, let’s take care of home court and we’ll be good to go.’”

Consider now what Green has accomplished: He’s an NCAA champion with the Tar Heels (2009) and a two-time NBA champion with the Spurs (2014) and the Raptors (2019). He was the fourth player from his UNC team to be selected in the NBA draft (46th overall), and he’s had the most success of any of them, particularly since he just signed a two-year, $30 million deal.

Green’s secret to success is not a secret: He knows how to find his fit, and he works at it. And he recognizes that’s a blue-collar mindset that many people – not just basketball players – can relate to. He’s never forgotten being the dancer on the bench, and he celebrates that just as much as he celebrates how far he’s come.

When he spends time with fans, especially kids, he keeps his past in mind.

“It’s important for me because I was those kids before,” he said. “I know I’m not the most talented guy in the world. I just worked really hard at what I did, but I don’t think I’m better than anybody because of what I do. But just let them know I appreciate them. I respect them.”

APPROACHABLE

The official itinerary of the evening specified that Green will do the haunted hayride and one of the many Griffith Park mazes, but Green played things a little more off the cuff. After buying a round of pretzels and lemonades for the boys, he elected to do one more maze than he was on the books for – after driving across town for more than an hour in L.A. traffic, he was willing to stretch his time with 4WRD Progress just a little bit longer.

After the group came out of the final attraction, a haunted butcher shop, an actor approached, a zombified farmer, and he took a picture with Green, the boys, the chaperones and a few publicists.

Afterward, he extended a hand to Green.

“Say hi to LeBron for me,” he said.

There was no earthly reason to hope that Green was going to the practice facility the next day to share with LeBron James that a zombie farmer had told him hello the night before. But as Green shook his hand, and widened his rakish smile, it was believable – for the briefest moment – that he just might.

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