There is a power within mankind, potent but gross, that many of our most famous figures have found a way to use without letting it use them. To control the raging, chaotic desire for domination and supremacy within oneself—to craft and instrumentalize it, make it your own ship to ride upon, this is what many speak of when they say they aspire to greatness. Most of us give up on this high-scale wrestling match with our glory-yearn sometime before our thirties, concluding that, whether or not we are ultimately capable of tremendous conquest, its juice is not really worth the daily squeeze of oneself.
Almost no one in professional sports feels this way. While there’s the occasional underachieving, physically gifted freak athlete who makes it to the big time on the back of pure biological luck alone, for the most part the NBA and other pro leagues are full of men with more than that: they possess a frightening amount of competitive energy. We know that many of them have their failures in keeping this rippling pool of want from breaking the walls that contain it, and are apt to lose that all-important wrestling match with their inner selves; we’ve all seen Sports Outbreaks. And if you’ve watched pro basketball for the past several years, you’ve certainly seen them from Draymond Green.
Green’s latest spillover is in a rare category of true basketball violence. It is not unprecedented, of course; his own coach caught a punch from Michael Jordan in the 90’s. More recently, an old Green foe, Blake Griffin, assaulted a Los Angeles Clippers equipment manager. More hilariously, J.R. Smith threw a bowl of soup at Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Damon Jones. Both were suspended by their teams: Griffin for four games, Smith for one. Green’s penalty is greater. He’s been sent away from the defending champion Golden State Warriors for his actions, for an unstated amount of time.
Much of that penalty has to do with a leaked Warriors practice video, giving the world full view of exactly how he swung on teammate Jordan Poole. For all we know, worse malice occurs off-camera more often than we realize, in the NBA. But out of what we do know, Green’s attack on Poole is an especially disproportionate, vicious one. Many old heads of the sport, after seeing the video of the punch, had to reach back to 1977 for comparison: that was when Kermit Washington absolutely decked Rudy Tomjanovich, resulting in a concussion, fractured skull, and broken jaw. Had Draymond fully connected, Poole could be suffering the same today.
Unlike Washington and Tomjanovich, Green and Poole are teammates. They may not be anymore, though, if the Warriors decide peace cannot be brokered between the two. Even before the altercation, they had signaled that Poole was more of a priority for them than Draymond, as they worked on a big contract to keep the young, dynamic scoring guard in town for a long time while they left Green hanging, forcing him to prove his worth for another season instead of locking him up for life. Draymond’s brutal workplace violation can only exacerbate this discrepancy.
Access to the frenetic, physical, hyper-communicative disruption and coordination Green offers on the court has long required dealing with all the storm and fever he brings off it. That’s the conventional wisdom on the Draymond dilemma, anyway, and it’s hard to disagree with: Green has been a constant spout of drama, but the Warriors have won four titles in his time with the team, and he’s been their best defensive player and passer for all of them, as well as the team’s leading source of emotional and mental energy. Championship seniority does not grant you a free swing at a guy who’s annoying you, though—especially not when he’s a decade younger than you, and about fifty pounds lighter.
Green’s reputation, which already framed him as a difficult man, is forever damaged. Some people will know him primarily for this. It’s nothing he can’t talk his way through, in most cases: his future TNT co-worker Charles Barkley provides an example, as he’s been arrested several times for violent actions in social settings (Draymond has been once, too), but he’s at the center of the NBA media industry, nonetheless. Propulsive charisma can, much like elite on-court performance, be a shield from the consequences that normal people experience. Green, as Barkley does, offers both.
This, in short, is the world we decide to accept on some level when we engage with professional sports. It’s a nasty business; if you’re reading this, chances are that the spirit of your profession is calmer and more orderly. Anyone who wound up and snapped their fist at the face of a co-worker in your day-to-day life would be fired, arrested, or both. In professional sports, you can simply do this stuff at the workplace, to some extent. If you injure someone badly enough, or if there’s a video of it that gets out, you’ll be penalized. But not nearly as badly as an average citizen would be, for the same behavior. When we're fans of the game, we are necessarily caught up in an idolatry strong enough that it changes how basic rules are enforced.
That’s the looking glass that this system of celebrity and athleticism—sports—happens through. We won’t want it for ourselves, sweet as its peaks may seem, but certainly we’re glad to see that someone is living a crazier life than we could handle, in which judgment and order are warped definitionally, and everything is for the taking if you’re ferocious enough in your pursuit of it. If Green’s relationship with the Warriors is repaired, this will be proved yet again. Even if it isn’t, his disregard for the boundaries that make most of our lives tolerable will probably serve him in some other way. Draymond’s act is not justified in any pure moral sense, but there is definitely margin for it within the matrix of Darwinist machismo that he's made a fortune in.