Dean Smith famously used to calm his teams with the advice that a billion people in China had no idea the game was even being played.
As Danny Green found out this summer, that's not always true at the NBA Finals level. The former Tar Heel sharpshooter spent over a week in China this offseason, where he was surprised to find out that his reputation--built on 27 three-pointers in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, a league record--preceded him.
"I had never been there before, but I assumed they were big basketball fans," said Green, who stopped by Chapel Hill this past weekend in advance of San Antonio training camp opening this week. "But you don't know until you go over there. When you realize that people in China watched you play, that's when it hit me that the Finals stage was the biggest stage in the world. That says something about how big basketball is throughout the world."
Green's world was a well-traveled one this summer. In addition to his trip to China, he hosted a camp in New York, hosted a camp in Canada, and went on a two-week tour of south Texas and west Texas for the Spurs.
It wasn't until one of those trips that he realized the magnitude of his third season with the Spurs, when he averaged 10.5 points per game in the regular season and then saw both his minutes (up to 31.9 per game) and scoring (up to 11.1 per game) increase in the postseason.
"I was in Canada with some friends and they were playing some of the classic Finals games on TV," Green said. "That's when it hit me that I just played in the NBA Finals. They said, 'You just now realized you played and were an MVP candidate and you didn't realize it?'
"But I was so caught up in the moment and it was such a long season, that I didn't realize how big the stage was and how often people will replay those games. These are games that go down in history."
Green, of course, is no stranger to a big stage. He was a part of one of the most decorated classes in Carolina basketball history, as his class went to back-to-back Final Fours and blitzed through the 2009 NCAA Tournament on the way to a national title. In Green's last two years alone, he was part of 11 games between top-10 opponents, games that received national attention from the college basketball world.
"Playing in front of 22,000 people at Carolina in the bright lights, and playing for an NCAA championship," he says, "definitely helped me a lot with being prepared for the NBA Finals."
His Tar Heel pedigree has helped him find a home with the Spurs. The organizations share numerous values, and San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich is an honorary member of the Carolina coaching tree who has made visits to the annual basketball talks held by the UNC coaching staff.
By the time Popovich met Green, the former Tar Heel had spent time with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the D-League's Reno Bighorns, and a lockout-induced stint in Slovenia. Popovich's familiarity with Roy Williams and the Carolina program enabled him to work with Williams to make sure Green understood exactly what he needed to do to stick in the NBA.
The results have been positive for both Green and the Spurs. Green values that he's found an NBA home that reminds him of his college alma mater.
"It starts with the coaches," Green says. "Coach Williams and Coach Pop are very professional in the way they carry themselves. They recruit not just great players, but great people. They want people who have the mentality of wanting to win and compete and not be just about the individual. Coach Williams gets kids who will buy into the message of winning, being a team and doing things the right way, without worrying about individual accolades."
That's reminiscent of one of Williams' favorite sayings--that winners get the awards and rewards. Green has been constantly reminded of that message over the summer. His newfound fame from his Finals shooting explosion means a whole new subset of fans have been introduced to Danny Green. And some of those fans are in a mutual admiration society with Green.
"It's crazy for people in any business to find out people who are your fans," he said. "Whether it's artists or actors who I used to watch, you see them out in random places and they talk about the Finals. Just recently, I met up with Drake. I'm a big fan of his and he is supposedly a big fan of me. It was crazy to talk to him about how he is a big basketball fan and watched the Finals. For him, one of the top guys in what he does, to be a big fan of me, it made me feel a little special."
Despite all the changes in Green's life--from hanging on in the NBDL to a member of the rotation with one of the most consistent organizations in the NBA, from unknown outside of Franklin Street to hanging out with Drake--it's a relief to know that one thing hasn't changed: Green still has that unshakeable New York confidence in his game.
He's equally comfortable talking about his 25-for-38 three-point shooting start in the first five games of the Finals as he is his 2-for-11 finish in the final two games. With him, a heat check is only one jumper away.
"There are going to be times when you miss shots," he said. "The previous year, I missed some shots in the Oklahoma City series. It's a confidence thing and a mental maturity thing. You just worry about the next shot. You can go 0-for-9 and the tenth shot could change the game. You have to shoot it as if you didn't miss any shots before that."
Adam Lucas is a GoHeels columnist and the editor of CAROLINA.