I’ve alluded to this story and told versions of it on the site for a while over the past few years but, with seniors Draymond, Delvon, Austin, and Anthony celebrating their careers this weekend, it’s time to tell the tale proper. I had hesitations about putting content so personal on the site but I realized that at the core of this story is something central to why many of us love Michigan State athletics. It isn’t simply about picking a side, loving sports, or following your alma mater. Sports hits us with something universal to the human experience – connections and relationships. I love Michigan State not just because we have one of the greatest college basketball coaches alive or due to the amazing number of recent Final Fours (though, of course, those are very appealing reasons). I pour my heart into MSU because of the time I spent there and how important those days are for me to this day. It’s about the sidewalks I walked along, the people I encountered both as lifelong friends and passing acquaintances, and all the experiences I’ve gathered while a student and alum on the banks of the Red Cedar. What they say about the basketball program is true of many of us – MSU is part of my family.
So, in honor of Senior Day, I’ve decided to tell the story of why Draymond Green is my all-time favorite Spartan basketball player. Like my introduction suggests, it isn’t reducible to all that he does on the court or the victories he’s been central to helping MSU achieve. Instead, it’s about how sports and fandom can intersect into our lives in powerful ways that reach far beyond the baseline. If you’ve every had your love of the game become something much more, maybe you can relate to what happened to me.
It is self-serving to point out that I was a Draymond Green early adopter. Picking him out as a contributor wasn’t easy. After all, MSU had fellow freshman PF Delvon Roe and Draymond’s late commitment was viewed as a satisfying denial of UM and not much more. Yet even in the first moments of his freshman season, I noticed that this unassuming looking young forward had a knack for contributing whenever he was on the floor. No skill leapt out at me and he didn’t look the part of a major Big Ten impact player. Still, whenever Draymond picked up a few minutes, he made plays. A ball would come off the rim and Green was there or a wing would cut to the basket and Draymond would find him. I can’t recall the opponent but my eyebrows lifted when the freshman caught an inbounds pass late in the shot clock and instead of giving it up to the circling guard, Green turned and pivoted to ace a long jumper at the buzzer. It was probably his longest college field goal to date and I thought "wow, this guy might have some skills." I remember the gratification when KJ started to take notice on Spartan Weblog and backed up those observations with revealing stats. Even in the early weeks when he was fighting for double-digit minutes, it started to look to me like Coach Izzo had stumbled upon a unique type of impact player.
That same fall, I began dating Vanessa, the woman who would eventually become my fiancée. Her own academic ties were to a MAC school and she was definitely not what you would consider a "sports fan." I don’t even think it’d be fair to call her a casual fan at the time. There was no reason at all for her to be invested in Michigan State University or its athletic programs. However, she quickly realized that spending time with me in the fall and winter months required devotion to the Spartan rituals and that cheering for the Green & White was part of the total Josh package.
I’ve always thought that sports were meaningless if you don’t understand the players, roles, histories, and what’s at stake. It’s rare to watch a contest for the disinterested "beauty of the game," especially if you’re a novice. The challenge became how to hook my new girlfriend on Michigan State basketball. After all, she was warm, patient, balanced, cute, considerate, intelligent, and complimented and contrasted me in all kinds of outstanding ways. She was what the cliché calls "a keeper." I knew that if she didn’t buy in to MSU sports, there would always be a limit on what we could share. To date someone who simply "tolerated" my love of MSU would not be the same.
Thankfully, I had a go-to for how to help her connect with the team. Before moving to SW Michigan, Vanessa had grown up in Saginaw and left home with a complex pride for all things "Sag-Nasty." My plan started with a simple, "Hey, you see that guy, #23? He’s from Saginaw." She was intrigued. Maybe it helped that my fiancée and I are both chubby people and seeing a Big Ten D1 forward who hadn’t fully "leaned out" made "The Dancing Bear" even more relatable. She started watching Draymond with the same focus I did and noticing the little things. Every time he entered the game, we’d watch to see what play he made this time and how his skills would help MSU to victory. Without a serious passion for college basketball or MSU, Vanessa started rooting personally for this freshman from her hometown.
After that, it snowballed. The trap was set and soon we were watching every game together, getting animated, hollering at the TV, cheering dunks, and doing everything else that came with being a fan. By the end of the season, we were living in separate states but kept calling and texting throughout MSU’s tournament run. I remember my pleased surprise when she made it a point to go out and watch the national champion game with friends. Clinched for good by the homestate euphoria of the 2009 Final Four, it was now safe to call Vanessa an adopted Spartan.
We became engaged last fall and it’s been sort of odd to watch our relationship grow parallel alongside the Spartan career of Draymond Green - the Spartan who, just by choosing MSU, help bring us closer together and gave us another thing to share. Four years later, Vanessa is almost as enthusiastic as I am. She has her MSU gear and looks forward to the occasional opportunities to visit the Breslin. She’s one of those people, the kind who stand when everyone behind her is sitting, cheer when many are quiet, and basically has no social inhibitions about supporting the team. Fittingly, it was she who approached me this season and insisted that we make it a point to attend Midnight Madness. Her transformation from a sports-indifferent MAC-er to a true Spartan is just one more thing about her that I find amazing. Fittingly, we'll be getting married and wrapping up our courtship in the same year that Draymond's MSU playing career comes to a close.
It would be far too much hyperbole to credit Draymond Green for the fact that I’ve found love and am getting married this year. However, I do know that it would have been impossible for my partner and I to hit it off as we did if he hadn’t been sitting on the bench at MSU as a freshman representing Saginaw. In addition to the Final Fours, the Big Ten Titles, and this fantastic 2011-2012 season, I owe him thanks for something beyond the basketball court.
For the small yet significant role you played in bringing my fiancée and I together, let me say 'thanks,' Day Day. That’s why, of all the players who’ve worn G&W, Draymond Green is my favorite Spartan.