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Guilty Pleasure Player: Gerald Green, Part 1

Over the course of the next week or two, CelticsBlog will run a new series entitled "The Guilty Pleasure Player Series". Here's how ajgoodman described a Guilty Pleasure Player in the forums:

We all have one. That player or those players that we love uncoditionally, no matter what they did.
Maybe you're the only one who doesn't think they stink. Maybe you even know they stink, but love them anyway? A guilty pleasure player persay. You're pacifier of the past or the present Celtics.

CelticsBlog's writing staff will discuss a number of players, both past and present, over the course of this series. Up first: Gerald Green.

Paul Pierce has already been cemented as my favorite basketball player of all time. It was a done deal years before the Celtics won everything back in 2008. I grew up watching Pierce, went through the highs and lows with him as my team's star, and along the way I developed an unmatched appreciation for the type of player Pierce is: The glorified, multi-dimensional, athletic swingman, capable of scoring at will. In my opinion, this type of player is the most exciting the NBA has to offer (Rajon Rondo has since helped to re-shape my opinion on the matter).

So, when the Celtics drafted Gerald Green with the 18th overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft, I was...shall we say...ecstatic. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, and if you were looking for an objective Celtics fan, I was the last guy you wanted to turn to. In all honesty, the name Gerald Green meant little to me when David Stern announced his name. But, when the descriptions began rolling in and the YouTube videos were viewed, I immediately got way too far ahead of myself and labeled him as "The Next Paul Pierce". Surely, without any doubt, Gerald would slowly work his way into the lineup, learn under Pierce, and inevitably replace him upon Pierce's retirement. That was just how it was going to go. I had, of course, decided all of this within 10 minutes of Green being drafted. 

YouTube exposed me to the freakish athleticism Green possessed, along with the potentially lethal jump shot. At the time, that was all I cared about. He was 6'8, could shoot, and probably could have leaped over me with two of my buddies stacked on my shoulders. What else did he need? In my green-tinted mind, Gerald was cast in the mold of a Pierce, a Tracy McGrady or a Kobe Bryant, and he would be just as great, if not better than, all three of them. Opposing players wouldn't be able to guard him, and opposing defenses as a whole wouldn't be able to contain him. Gerald had, within him, a wealth of unmatched potential, and when it was realized, we would be in for something special. Little did I know that five years later, we'd still be waiting for that potential to turn into something more. 

Gerald was a member of the Boston Celtics for two full seasons. He played in just 32 games during his rookie campaign, and averaged a mere 5.2 points per game. Nevertheless, despite the unimpressive stats, the flashes of brilliance were there, and I found myself convinced that all Gerald needed was significant playing time to flourish. 

During his second tour of duty with the C's, Gerald participated in 81 of the team's 82 games, started 26 of those games, and doubled his scoring average with a 10.4 points per game mark. 

The two seasons, in all honesty, are a blur. I remember certain moments of Gerald's better than others, but I will admit that my memory fails me when it comes time to remember which season they occurred in. 

The one moment that I still regard above all others - the move that completely sold me on Gerald Green - came against the Detroit Pistons. To reiterate, I do not remember which season the game occurred in, and I can't even tell you whether the Celtics won or lost. But during the game, Gerald found himself with the ball far out on the right wing, four or five feet behind the three-point line. He was being guarded pretty tightly, and the shot clock was winding down. He crossed over to his right, couldn't get by his man, and had to resort to a nearly impossible fadeaway three-pointer. The ball left his hands, arced up perfectly, and fell through the net. My jaw dropped, mainly because it wasn't the type of desperation heave most players would have attempted in such a situation. It was a legitimate fading jump shot that looked completely effortless. It was ridiculously Kobe-esque, and I am not lying when I say that just a week ago I was discussing Green with a buddy of mine and referred to this specific shot as "one that only Kobe could have hit." 

There's something special, and almost indescribable, about those players who are capable of getting their own shot off against any one at any time. Typically, in the case of the swingmen like Pierce and Bryant, they use great footwork and athleticism to create space between their defender, before, more often than not, relying on a very reliable step back jump shot. The mid-range games of these specific players are usually very well developed, and their ability to knock down vastly difficult shots is one of the more attractive parts of their respective games. 

Well, in the two seasons Gerald played with Boston, we saw multiple flashes of these abilities. We needed to see them on a more consistent basis however, which was difficult, considering Gerald played an inconsistent number of minutes. For me, I wanted Gerald to play every single second of every single game. I not only wanted to see the rim-rattling in-game dunks, but, more importantly, the mid-range jump shots and aggressive drives to the hoop. I've always been a fan of Doc Rivers, but even I grew frustrated at times by Gerald's lack of playing time. Again, I was a naive high schooler who turned a blind eye to Green's inability to play reliable defense, his spotty ball handling, and lack of a knack for making his teammates better. I was just focused on Gerald doing exciting things, like scoring and dunking.

I remember a game against the Milwaukee Bucks, and growing infinitely more excited as soon as Gerald checked into the action. It was at a point in time where, for a young player like Gerald, and a young fan like myself, every bucket of his seemed to matter. I instinctively had the Gerald Green Point Tracker geared up in my head, and, as usual, I was hoping it would rise up to at least 20, if not more. I remember his first bucket coming on a jumper off of a cut to the free throw line. His form was great, and, as usual, the effort looked quite effortless. Mere minutes later, Gerald scored again, on a shot almost identical to the one before it. I distinctly remember thinking he had just garnered more playing time with those two buckets. Instead, the unthinkable happened, as Doc yanked him mere moments later. Gerald returned to the bench, and I found myself engulfed in a wave of hatred aimed at Doc (I overreacted). 

Perhaps strangely, it was Gerald's collection of mid-range jump shots that excited me more than his gravity-defying dunks. His jump shots served as proof that he might be able to make it as a legitimate player. 98 percent of NBA players can dunk the ball, but very few have the ability to serve as a go-to guy who's capable of creating his own offense on the spot. 

The dunks were fun, though. And there were many of them. There was the game against the Toronto Raptors his rookie season, when, with the outcome already determined (in the Celtics's favor), Tony Allen and Gerald found themselves alone on a fast break with mere seconds left, and Tony threw a pass high off the backboard, which Gerald snared with his right hand after leaping into the air and threw it down with authority. In my humble opinion, it still ranks as the greatest in-game alley-oop I've ever seen. The dunk itself, though, drew some criticism from Toronto's TV guys:

Mere weeks later, Gerald once again buried the Raptors with a last-second showoff dunk. With the Celtics leading 122-120 with less than 10 seconds left, Gerald once again took a Tony Allen pass in the open court, and, with a clear lane to the hoop, had the chance to ice the game with a simple layup, or, at the very least, a pedestrian two-handed slam. But no, those options weren't good enough. Instead, Gerald drove, skied, and threw down a thunderous windmill, leading Tommy Heinsohn to proclaim: "I wonder if Chuck (Toronto's TV guy) got upset there!" It was a risky dunk, for, if he had blown it, Gerald would have surely drawn the ire of Doc. But, he converted it, and it turned into one of those "Ohhhhhhhhhh!" moments that I still reflect on from time to time:

Check back later this afternoon for Part 2, where I'll touch on the dunk contest Gerald won, the one he lost, and his eventual exit from the NBA. 

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