Green's conference finals culmination of long journey
HOUSTON (AP) — Gerald Green was at a crossroads.
Released by Milwaukee in training camp, the career journeyman couldn't find another NBA team that wanted him.
He contemplated playing internationally and in the G League, but no one had any use for the over-30 player with almost a decade of NBA experience.
"I was honestly contemplating retirement," he told The Associated Press. "A lot of people don't know that, but I was done."
So he contacted his agent to put an expiration date on his basketball career.
"I was like: 'Look man, when Jan. 1, 2018, hits, if I'm unsigned, I'm putting out a big statement on my Instagram letting everybody know, thank you for the awesome career over all these years but I'm done,'" he said. "'I ain't going to play no more.'"
Just four days shy of his self-imposed deadline, Green received the call that would change everything: His hometown Houston Rockets wanted him.
"Basketball was the last thing on my mind until I got that call," he said. "Then it's kind of like ... 'Are you serious?'"
By then, the 32-year Green had already "mentally checked out" of basketball. He was spending his days doing work in real estate and teaming with rapper Trae Tha Truth to help victims of Hurricane Harvey.
The Rockets took a chance on Green, and now he could make it pay off.
Green's years as an underdog — along with his length and athleticism — could be just what Houston needs Wednesday night when the Rockets try to even up the Western Conference finals after losing Game 1 to the Golden State Warriors.
He knew when he joined the Rockets it was a shot at redemption — on many levels.
He was traded to Houston as a 22-year-old in 2008 but released a little more than two weeks later after appearing in just one game.
When Green came to the Rockets the first time, he acknowledges he had the wrong attitude. The young man who'd had a modest upbringing on the South side of Houston had money after being drafted in the first round in 2005, and was coming off a memorable performance in the dunk contest at the 2008 All-Star Game where he blew out a candle atop a cupcake that was balanced on the back of the rim before throwing down a two-handed slam.
"It was right place at the wrong time," he said of his mini-stint with the Rockets. "I just wasn't focused. I still wanted to go out and enjoy my success of getting to the NBA instead of me trying to enjoy the work process of getting better."
In the years since, he bounced around with six other NBA teams and spent two years playing in Russia and China. When he returned to Houston, he knew from the first day that his second stint was going to be special.
"As soon as I walked in the door I felt like everybody had their arms open to me like: 'We need a hug. Come on, man. We've been waiting on you,'" he said mimicking a hug with his long muscular arms.
And the feeling was certainly mutual.
"To know him is to love him," Chris Paul said. "He's one of those people that if you don't like Gerald Green, you're telling me a lot about yourself."
It was a new feeling for Green, who said he felt like some of his previous teammates wondered why he was on the team and never fully embraced him.
"I get judged a lot," he said. "Maybe because of the way I talk, the way I look, I'm real quick to say a lot of stuff that maybe people don't understand because that's just me. I'm not the type of person that's scripted ... but on this team since Day 1, I could say something (crazy) and they ain't never judged me for that."
Coach Mike D'Antoni had known of the lanky forward with a knack for 3-pointers for years, but wasn't sure what to expect when Houston signed him off the street.
He didn't have to wait long. The day after he signed he scored 18 points, and in his fourth game and Houston's first of the season without James Harden, who was nursing a hamstring injury, Green put on a show. He scored 27 points and made 7 of 10 3-pointers to help the Rockets to a win over Orlando. The next night he outdid himself, tying a career high with eight 3s and finishing with 29 points as Houston fell to Golden State.
Green, who played high school basketball in Houston, averaged more than 18 points in the seven games Harden was out.
He has continued to bring a spark off the bench, averaging 12.1 points in the regular season — his highest average since 2015. He credits his turnaround to the nurturing environment fostered by D'Antoni, who he calls a "confidence-giver."
And despite his limited work, he's become a fan favorite for his almost obsessive love for Houston.
Green arrives to almost every game in a jersey of one of Houston's teams, and he has three tattoos that pay homage to the city. Running down the entire length of his left forearm is the word "Houston" in graffiti-style block letters. On the front of his left shoulder is ink replicating the sign for Interstate 45, a freeway that runs directly by where he was raised. The last one is a nod to the Houston Oilers, a baby blue oil derrick on the back of the same shoulder almost identical to the ones that once adorned their helmets.
But his representation of Houston doesn't stop there. Each time he hits a 3-pointer, he contorts both of his hands into "H's" and holds them high toward the crowd.
Says Harden: "He's the most Houston person I know."
Green thrilled fans earlier this season when he first got his hair braided into the "R'' from the Rockets' logo. Since then, he's also sported braids that formed the star from the Houston Astros' logo.
For the playoffs, he's sticking with the Rockets' logo and discussed his love of the city with the AP as hairstylist Sandra Finn spent almost 90 minutes creating the intricate design. He brags about never getting rid of his phone number with a Houston area code even as he moved around the world. Later he jokes that he might ask Finn to braid the city's first area code "713" into his hair one day.
"Maybe I am biased, I don't know, but hell I'd die for this damn city," he said. "I really would, man. I love this city."