When you’ve played in what amounts to basketball Siberia for the better part of three years, you have some stories. Gerald Green has plenty but, at least for the time being, he’s keeping them to himself.
“There’s just so many,” he said, shaking his head. “There’s a lot of stories I wouldn’t want to say because I wouldn’t want anybody to judge me. “
When you’re 26 years old and already have played for six NBA teams, two in Russia, one in China and one in the D-League, there also has been no shortage of judgment in your life, most of it unfavorable.
“You get high school kids who have no idea what this is all about, who have been lauded for how great they are,” said Pacers President Donnie Walsh. “They come in the league and they think they can play the way they did in high school and it takes awhile for them to realize, ‘No you can’t.’ ”
The realization has come for Green. The 6-8 swingman has created quite a buzz in Indiana’s training camp not only with his knack for spectacular plays but for his professionalism, unselfishness and – wait for it – maturity.
“The light went on,” Walsh said. “He had to go to China and Russia and one day he said to me he was looking in the mirror and said, ‘The next time I get a chance at the NBA I’m going to do whatever they tell me because I can’t be here any more. I want to be there.’ And he made good on it.”
Green scored 18 points in 27 minutes in the Pacers’ 96-91 victory over Minnesota Friday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, playing a key role in the team’s game-turning 19-0 run in the fourth quarter. He also contributed six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
With three more preseason games this week, beginning Tuesday at home against Atlanta, Green will have ample opportunity to both demonstrate and measure his progress. The Pacers have been moving cautiously with Danny Granger and his sore knee, which creates plenty of opportunity for Green.
Through all the travels and travails, he believed he would get one more chance and pledged to make it stick. He started last season in China, was in training camp with the Lakers, wound up starring in the D-League and signed with the Nets. In 31 games, he averaged 12.9 points, shot 39 percent from the 3-point line and beyond the numbers showed he was ready to become not just a player but a teammate.
While the Nets made huge moves during the offseason, they quietly hoped to hang onto Green but the Pacers snatched him away as a free agent. And now, expected to play a key role off the bench on a team projected to contend for one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference, Green has the chance he has been craving – and ultimately earned.
“I had to prove to myself, ‘Can I get back?’” he said. “I was reading a lot of the stuff people were saying about me about being a bust, how I’d never get back. Maybe that stuff was true but I never thought that. In my mind, I never thought I was a bust. I always thought I could play. When I did have the opportunity, I didn’t apply myself right.
“So I always thought the next time I got an opportunity, I’m going to apply myself the best I can and I’m not going to let it pass. That’s why I was a bust because when I had my chance I didn’t do anything with it.”
Like Granger, Green entered the 2005 NBA Draft with high hopes of being a lottery pick. Like Granger, he experienced the disappointment of sliding down the board. The Pacers took Granger at No. 17. Green went next to Boston.
Though Green put up respectable numbers with the Celtics, he was a wild colt, never fitting in. He was traded to Minnesota, traded to Houston, cut, and then signed by Dallas in 2008-09. When the Mavs let him go, Green headed overseas, where the hard lessons began.
“Things happen for a reason. The reason I went overseas, I guess it happened for me to get better and get to find myself again,” he said. “Once you’re a professional, sometimes you might not be as talented but you work hard every day at your game. You do the little things to make you better, watch film, get treatment on your body, eat healthy, get enough sleep, the things that make you mentally better and prepare you for the game.
“When somebody’s talented, they don’t necessarily need to do all that stuff. They can go work out a couple times and go out and give a guy 40 points. I’ve seen it happen many times. To me, that’s the difference between having talent and being professional. I need to work at both levels, I need to work on my skill level because I’m definitely not as skilled as a lot of guys and I need to be a better professional. Going overseas, I learned to do both.”
Bankers Life Fieldhouse may not look like the promised land but you’d be hard-pressed to convince Green otherwise. If he did not appreciate what it meant to be a professional in 2005, he surely does now.
He also appreciates a man only gets so many chances in life, and this just might be his last.
“Just from me being in Russia, being in China, being all over the place, for me it’s an amazing journey because a lot of people in life don’t get second chances,” Green said. “You know that, I know that, a lot of people in the world know that. By me getting a second chance in the best league in the world, that’s an amazing story in itself.”
It’ll do, for now.