“He didn’t say nothing [to] me for the first 2 1/2 years,” said Brooks, who was named head coach when the franchise relocated the following season to become the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I didn’t think he liked me.”
Unlike the subtle changes to his former college arena and now current NBA home, Green has experienced a personality makeover. He talks more, his voice in the ear of the team’s youngest player and echoing inside the practice facility where the Wizards could use his mature baritone. The Wizards didn’t recruit Green into the role, but he embraced it on his own.
“Communication is key. I’ve been trying to be very, very vocal in some of the things we need to get done,” said Green, who recently turned 32. “[The Wizards] didn’t mention it but in my nature, how I’ve grown and matured throughout the years, that was my goal to bring anyway.
“I don’t know what’s been the culture around here the last couple of years. I don’t know what’s been missing, but my job is to just be myself and speak up when need be,” Green continued. “I’m not a big talker, but when I say something I mean it and hopefully people listen. They didn’t necessarily say they needed me to be vocal and to be, like, the ‘voice of reason.’ My job was to go out there, lead by example, take what I’ve learned over the last year and how we got to the championship and what I’ve learned from some of the best that I had [played with] and bring that.”
Playing almost 11 years in the NBA can change a person — especially a man who nearly lost it all during a health scare and now treats every day on the court as a gift.
After spending the majority of his first four seasons in Seattle/Oklahoma City — “He’s always had a mature way about him, even when he was only 20 years old,” said Brooks, who coached the Thunder for eight seasons — Green learned that he needed open-heart surgery to repair an aortic root aneurysm. The procedure saved his life but also stripped away basketball for the entire 2011-12 season. To this day, that year defines Green’s outlook.
On Monday, Green did not specifically bring up the surgery but it seemed to be the unspoken topic as he shared his enthusiasm about an otherwise meaningless preseason game.
“Just playing in general for me has always been exciting, has always been fun,” said Green, who was signed to fill the void left by Mike Scott’s departure. “I feel like a kid again every year. I get excited. I’m blessed and honored to be playing. Grateful. So I appreciate every moment, I enjoy every moment. I still get butterflies every time.”
During the team’s week of practice, Green was more grizzled veteran than excited kid. He stressed the importance of defensive communication to rookie Troy Brown Jr. Green can remain in the 19-year-old’s ear off the court, too — when the Wizards reorganized the locker room, the team made sure to sit Green next to Brown.
“If I get quiet, he’ll always be like: ‘Troy! Talk!’ " Brown said about Green’s on-court advice. “That’s one of those voices I hear. You know it’s Jeff. You know Jeff when you hear Jeff.”
Beyond training camp tutorials, Green has a decade of experience to give the Wizards. Although last season’s Cleveland Cavaliers roster was ridiculed as a weak supporting cast for LeBron James, Green picked up valuable lessons playing alongside the league’s alpha male. Only three players inside Washington’s locker room, not including two-way player Jordan McRae, who won a title as a deep reserve with Cleveland in 2016, have NBA Finals experience. Green said he wants to share with teammates what it takes to get there.
“He’s been another veteran voice that we needed,” starting forward Markieff Morris said. “Another guy that been around the league, been through it all, to help us with the young guys or just keep the team on the right path.”
Before the Wizards' preseason opener, Green scouted seats for his family. His wife and father, who he still counts on for postgame analysis, needed season tickets. Green found seats in the section behind the home bench. Perhaps from that close vantage point, his family will hear him doling out advice.
“That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve noticed. He was very quiet,” Brooks said. “Now, he understands the importance of being a veteran, the importance of mentoring these younger players on the team. And he’s been through a lot of things in his life that he understands how important it is to play the right way, game by game.”