Last Tuesday, Bessie Cooper died in a Georgia nursing home at age 116. Nearly as impressive as her longevity was Willie Green’s start on Saturday, his 16th of the season and the 242nd in his 10 year NBA career. Green was never expected to crack an NBA rotation or even seize a roster spot, but his determination was too much to ignore. A decade after his first professional basket, the shooting guard is filling a pivotal role for a contending Clippers team.
Green was drafted 41st overall by the Seattle Supersonics before he was dealt to the 76ers for cash and Paccelis Morlende (who never set foot in the NBA). The Detroit native joined a Philadelphia training camp clogged with established 2-guards and a rookie head coach in Randy Ayers, but the rookie’s preseason play hinted a future offensive contributor.
Ayers (who was fired next February) deserves credit for unearthing Green, who in person appears as average as his name. The 31 year old is undersized for his position at 6’3” and 200 pounds, and lacks upper-tier driving explosiveness. Green has a career average of 9 points per game and offers little on defense. Why does he continue to receive minutes?
Because Green is more dependable than a Toyota. The veteran finds his shots within the offense and rarely attempts contested scoring opportunities. This season, Green is averaging a career-low 6.1 points per contest, but his efficiency has skyrocketed, recording a 58.7% success rate on 2 point jumpers while being assisted for 97% of his makes from the floor. The Michigan man has averaged 1.1 turnovers in 569 games.
Green also performs admirably through physical and mental pain. The guard has battled cartilage issues in his right knee that have plagued him all season.
“It’s not something that’s going to stop me from going out there and being productive,” he explained to The Los Angeles Times’ Broderick Turner. “Everybody has little knickknack injuries.”
In addition to headaches in the brain. 2 years ago, Green’s sister and cousin were killed in a DWI accident after watching him record 11 points in Auburns Hills. In the wake of such tragedy, a weaker man would have pointed a loaded gun to his face, but the athlete persevered. Green missed the next 5 games but returned on New Year’s Eve to beat the Celtics on the road.
“I’m just blessed,” spoke a positive-minded Green. “I love what I do for a living so it makes it easy for me to wake up every day and play basketball.”
And Green’s role as the Clippers’ hole-plugger has no effect on his mindset. Despite beating Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe for the backcourt starting job, the player was expected to take a back seat to Chauncey Billups following his return from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Green was inactive when Billups started 3 straight games 2 weeks ago, but a new setback has allowed the former 76er, Hornet and Hawk to reclaim his stabilizing role.
“I know being in this league, circumstances happen…I want to come in and be ready to help this team win games until Chauncey is inserted back in the starting lineup.”
Green’s humility is a rare NBA trait. It’s hard to gauge how many more years the guard will produce at a high level, but we can assume he will exceed our expections.