Golden State Warrior Draymond Green walked excitedly into the Nye Conference Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School on Thursday, not as strictly a professional basketball player fielding hoop questions. He was an athlete, philanthropist, and social activist who spoke little about his livelihood.
Green discussed a series of issues in front of an estimated crowd of 250 that filled the meeting room and were enthralled with every word. Green does not want to be appreciated strictly for his athletic prowess. He told the students he wants to be an entrepreneur after his playing days. He wants to be considered a conscientious thinker, and is hardly afraid to speak his mind, on and off the court.
In a session entitled “Athletes as Leaders,” Green took a series of questions from assistant professor of public policy Leah Wright Rigueur for approximately 45 minutes before taking questions from the fascinated student audience.
Green was open and honest, explaining his stance on social issues that face not only athletes but African-Americans. Green wasn’t trying to sell sneakers or a line of headphones. He came to Harvard only seeking to offer his insight, and was visibly humbled by the experience.
“I always wanted to speak at Harvard but I never had a clue or an idea that it would happen,” he told the audience. “I’m nervous, but I am ecstatic to be here. I wouldn’t have passed up an opportunity to speak at Harvard. It’s like a dream come true.”
Firstly, Green wanted to emphasize to the audience that he and his teammates are politically and socially conscious.
“It really starts with the type of guys that we have; we’re not just basketball players,” Green said. “That’s what we do. That’s our jobs. It doesn’t make up the person. It doesn’t make Steph Curry, the person. It doesn’t make up me, the person. We’re much broader than that. We educate ourselves on different topics and if we feel a certain way about a topic, we’ll use our platform to speak out.”
Green discussed his work in the Bay Area community, playing basketball and dominoes against prison inmates as part of a team program, speaking to kids about feelings on the police with officers present, and attempting to bridge the gap between athletes and those who idolize them.
Perhaps Green’s most important statement explained his anger with the term “owner” as a reference to the chairman of a sports team. Green made headlines recently by saying that term bothered him because it hinted at players essentially being owned, a perception he wanted to squash.
“When you look at the word ‘owner,’ it really dates back to slavery,” he said. “The word ‘owner,’ ‘master,’ it dates back to slavery. When you look at those words and we continue to put it to use. I understand the difference between owning equity and owning a trademark. I understand owning a business.
“I have very close relationships with our owners. If Peter Guber and Joe Lacob walk in, I’m going to say, ‘He’s my owner, Joe Lacob; here’s my owner Peter Guber.’ But do they really own you, the person?
“When you think of the Golden State Warriors, you don’t really think of the bridge that’s on the front of their jerseys. You probably think Steph Curry. You probably think Kevin Durant. You probably think Klay Thompson. It’s a backwards thing. If you say Golden State Warriors and I think Steph Curry, and you say, ‘Yeah, I’m the owner.’ Do you own Steph?”
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban accused Green of not knowing the difference between owning people and owning equity, such as a professional sports team. Green responded.
“When you look at Mark Cuban for instance with the whole ‘equity’ thing,” he said, “we all can own equity and that’s fine. But Mark Cuban will never know or understand how it feels for me, a young, black African-American to turn on the TV and see what happened in Charlottesville. He’ll never have that fury. When I say, ‘Hey, maybe we shouldn’t use that word [owner],’ I really don’t expect him to understand where I’m coming from because he’ll never feel what I feel when I turn on the TV and see however many people taken down by the KKK or whatever group it was.
“He’ll never know that feeling about that that I have. You can try to understand it and he’ll still never quite understand it quite to the degree that I do. It’s not to take a shot at the owners of these entities. It’s more to try to spark change to help others that may be similar to me. You can’t say I’m dead wrong because you really don’t know how I feel to turn on that TV and see a young black man shot by a police office. [The man] was unarmed. It’s hard to say I’m wrong when you don’t have that.”
One Harvard Kennedy School student asked Green his response when naysayers and critics tell him to “stick to sports.” Green had the perfect retort.
“That’s funny,” he said. “The reason that’s funny, a lot of times that comes with politics, people say, ‘Athletes shouldn’t speak politics.’ Well, I find that funny because everyone thinks they can speak basketball. I think it’s our right as Americans to speak out about what we want to speak out on.”