In years past, The Boston Globe gave out free Celtics posters in it's Sunday additions, and one of the ones I have hanging on my wall to this day is of Gerald Green, who, in the shot, is soaring through the air in the middle of his final dunk of the 2007 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. As many of you will remember, Gerald won that dunk contest during the 24-win 2006-2007 season. The poster was commemorating what seemed like one of the very few bright spots for the Celtics that season. For even though Gerald winning that contest was exciting at the time, in retrospect, it was probably one of the worst things that could have happened to such a young and undeveloped basketball player.
The win brought Gerald fame, but not necessarily respect on the basketball court. Him winning that contest was not a measure of his talent on the floor, nor did it serve as a measuring stick of any real progression in his overall game. Rather than earn a "buzz" the way recent NBA youngsters Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry have - through their play on the court - Gerald earned it by unveiling a retro Dee Brown jersey, his Reebok pumps, and by later jumping over a table while cementing his victory with a windmill (He wanted to jump over a slot machine, since All-Star weekend was being held in Vegas, but apparently David Stern wasn't on board with it).
And while Gerald pridefully held his trophy high over his head, and while I texted a few of my buddies in celebration, the underlying fact remained: Gerald Green was still nothing more than a 6'8 kid loaded with potential who had yet to consistently tap into it. Like Gerald, both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have won dunk contests, but for those two, their victories are nothing more than fun facts that might be mentioned in some sort of trivia game. In no way, shape, or form, do the dunk contest victories define the careers of Jordan and Kobe. Instead, we regard them for the number of championships they've won, the incredible shots they've made under pressure, and their relentless wills to win. But for Gerald, that dunk contest came to define him, as opposed to an unmatched work ethic, or a steady display of progression towards greatness.
Today it's much easier for me to acknowledge and accept the various flaws that plagued Gerald Green's game when he was a member of the Boston Celtics. But even back then I couldn't help but notice that Gerald always seemed either rushed or out of control on the basketball court. He typically dribbled the ball too far out in front of him, particularly when he attempted to drive down the lane. When he did attack the paint he never seemed to know exactly what he wanted to do, and if two or three defenders stood in his way, the play typically ended in disaster. This glaring flaw in Gerald's game was amplified partly because he played beside and behind Pierce, who has always had a natural knack for attacking the rim with his dribble in a controlled manner, along with incredible footwork. Gerald's footwork typically seemed out of sync with what the rest of his body wanted to do.
When news broke that the Celtics had traded for Kevin Garnett, I instantly knew it was an intelligent basketball decision. But, on the other hand, it was tough to see a few of those players leave town. I knew Al Jefferson would be the cornerstone of that deal, but deep down I was hoping the Celtics had managed to keep Gerald out of the transaction. No luck. Gerald was off to Minnesota. It was very, very difficult to see Gerald leave, mainly because I still felt he had all of that potential built up inside of him, and it would now be in Minnesota, and not in Boston, that it would be unleashed, and six or seven years after Garnett retired, Gerald would be standing tall as one of the league's perennial All-Stars.
Minnesota never really worked out for Gerald (has Minnesota ever really worked out for any NBA player?), and neither did Houston. He signed with Dallas the season after being traded, but, as was steadily becoming the trend, saw his most significant minutes during garbage time. I watched the Mavericks whenever they played on national television in hopes of seeing a new-and-improved Gerald Green. No luck, again. Each time I saw him, he still appeared to be the same player: Young, raw, and inconsistent, yet still so clearly talented.
Gerald did not play for an NBA team during the 2009-2010 season, opting instead to head for Russia, which depressed me, seeing as I had read such a bleak description of that country in Paul Shirley's Can I Keep My Jersey? in 2008. Gerald recently played for the Los Angeles Lakers's summer league team, but, with eyes on an NBA return, has yet to officially sign with a club.
Ultimately, is it Gerald Green's fault that he has yet to find legitimate success in the NBA? Probably. A few years (if not all four) of college would have done wonders for him in terms of him continuing to develop the most basic fundamentals. Once he was out of Boston, reports surfaced that he was lazy and didn't put the necessary work in, which was dispiriting to hear. If such reports are true, then yes, the blame lies on him.
But I also wonder if Gerald was also a classic case of a young, undeveloped basketball player who was handed too much too soon. That dunk contest certainly didn't do him any favors, and I distinctly remember him trying to defend that crown the following season. It was only after Darryl Dawkins brushed Gerald's freshly autographed sneakers off of the judge's table in front of him, as if they were covered in radioactive waste - after Gerald had placed them there mere seconds before converting a shoe-less, between-the-legs slam - that I realized just how far Gerald had fallen off. There was an eerie symbolism behind those shoes falling. I always felt that, once they hit the bottom, so did Gerald Green's career.
I'll also always casually wonder if Gerald is just one of those players who will never quite "get it". He has all of the physical tools to be successful, but, for whatever reason, he can't seem to put it all together. Maybe he just can't grasp offensive and defensive schemes, or maybe he'll just never be able to hone those raw physical gifts into a more defined game that allows him to find success.
Nevertheless, despite the disappointments thus far, despite the unrealized potential, and despite the frustration behind that wealth of talent not yet turning into anything significant, I still support Gerald Green. I wish him nothing but the best, to the point where I tweeted about him joining the Lakers in summer league play and called it, "The Comeback". For two years, he was arguably the Celtics' most exciting player, and for a young fan like myself, that held a certain weight that cannot be easily brushed aside.
I probably shouldn't still support Green, who, at this point, is nothing more than a player who hasn't accomplished a whole lot in the league, despite having the talent to do so. But, I still do. And if, by some strange twist of fate, he ever plays for the Celtics again in the future, I can only hope he will have become the player that I've always wanted him to be.