The Sharpshooting NBA Player with Pet Snakes
Danny Green's uncle introduced him to snakes when he was a kid. The Toronto Raptors guard has been in love with them ever since.
Illustration by Marvin Lau/VICE
The Milwaukee crowd could sense it was their moment. Their superman, Giannis Antetokounmpo, had given the Bucks their first lead since halftime by nailing a rare 3-pointer. Cries of "Defense!" echoed through the Fiserv Forum but the subliminal message was clear, "Fear. The. Deer! Fear. The. Deer!"
Danny Green was having none of it.
As the Raptors came down the floor, the Bucks took away the Kawhi Leonard-Serge Ibaka pick-and-roll, which put the ball in Pascal Siakam's hands. The paint was protected on his drive so he had no choice but to kick it out to the corner and into the hands of a scoreless and well-defended Delon Wright. With the shot clock winding down, though, the Bucks forgot about Green.
One more swing was all it took, and Green was ready. The net didn't move, but you could feel the reverberations across the Forum, possibly the Eastern Conference, and the league. Dead silence, a critical tie-breaker kept alive as these two teams cajole for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Green's had several of these big moments in his first year with the Raptors, the three and double-block with Leonard early in the season against the Celtics to go along with the game-winner against Orlando serve as reminders of what made him so valued in San Antonio. It's a fascination he has, really. Embracing the ability to strike down on an unassuming prey all started with his grandmother, Golden Grams, and his uncle, Steve Berry.
Back when Green was filled with the curiosity of a child, he and his two brothers were over at his grandmother's Long Island home all the time, while their dad, Daniel Green Sr., a young single parent, was out working three jobs to try and make ends meet. It was a different kind of outlet for the Green brothers. Surrounded by sports in a family full of athletes, a house that could moonlight as a zoo tickled the senses the way Instagram cranks out dopamine hits today.
"My grandma's house was a damn zoo," Green told VICE Sports. There were all kinds of dogs and cats, litters all around the house, all kinds of birds and fish, too. He's quick to point out there were no ferrets, though.
If Golden Grams was just the tip of the iceberg, Uncle Steve unearthed Danny's full-on obsession. When visiting Berry, his dad's brother, Green was introduced to the world of reptiles. There was a 13-foot Burmese python and, over time, a bunch of different boa constrictors. While there are over 40 different species of boas, whether they were red-tailed, rubber, rosy or rainbow made no difference to Danny at the time, except the python. A reptile that large is hard to forget, especially when it came to feeding time. There was no Netflix then, but if there's one thing Danny wishes he could have binged at the time, it was watching those snakes get fed.
"As a kid, it was the most amazing thing, the coolest thing ever—'Oh, he's eating a rabbit!'" Green says as his eyes light up. You'd think he was watching it all over again, not standing in the corner of the Raptors' practice facility after the grind of a morning workout.
With each passing visit to his uncle's, the itch grew, and it would only be a matter of time before he scratched it. That time came when attending the University of North Carolina, after his roommates pushed him over the brink. One got a dog, another got a hamster.
"Someone said, 'You should get a snake,' so I said fuck it, got me a snake," he recalls. "Went to Petco and got her."
Getting her wasn’t by design. Green wanted a male, and after his first pet snake died on the very first day after a seizure, he went right back to the store and came home with Jake. But soon he had to take his newest pet to the vet for throwing up after feeding. That's when he found out the Colombian red-tailed boa was actually female and so Jake became Jade. Clearly, Green had a lot more to learn than feeding. He googled, read, asked around, did everything he could to make sure he understood what he signed up for.
Feeding came a bit easier, and the low maintenance of a snake is one of the main reasons he chose the reptile over other pets. Jade needed rats or mice once a week to scarf down as a baby, and although the feeding size changes as they grow, they need to be fed as infrequently as once a month as they age.
Green learned the hard way, too. Boas can get defensive and sometimes just want their own space. There's a process in understanding when they want to be handled, when they want to be alone, when they're "being active" and when they're about to shed. So, when Green was still figuring things out, he got bit.
He was taught that an important part of maintaining a snake as a pet is getting them accustomed to the human touch as much as possible from a young age, and that's all he thought he was doing. Their vision isn't the greatest, and so when they're young and afraid, handled in a way that doesn't feel ideal, they'll let you know.
"The bites happen when they're small and it happens so fast it scares you," Green recalls. "But, you don't even know where it's at, it's usually so small. It's like a paper cut that won't stop bleeding, but it's small, they have little teeth and they just snap at you to get you off when they're defensive.
"People think [boas are] poisonous and you're going to die, but it's just a paper cut," Green reassured. "[A] snake bite is not gonna stop you from playing unless they get you right on the part of the hand (he shows the webbing from thumb to index finger perfectly intact) where you need stitches."
Once Green and Jade got past the growing pains and he figured how to read her habits and lifestyle, the challenges kept coming. But in another way. After winning a national championship with North Carolina, getting selected 46th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2009 NBA Draft and playing 20 games as a rookie, Green was dealt a much deeper cut, one that left him off an NBA roster early into his second season.
He received the momentary solace of getting picked up by the San Antonio Spurs, but was released by them soon after as well. His NBA dream no longer on life support, Green had to start from scratch. He had to figure out where to pick his spots and identify skill sets that fit in with what NBA teams desired.
That's where the NBA Developmental League came in, providing him ample opportunity first with the Reno Bighorns in January 2011, before the Spurs were tempted again and added him to their D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros. A lockout delayed the start of the 2011-12 NBA season and Green suddenly found himself in Slovenia, with an opt-out clause to return. He had figured out his niche, though, and that was to play lockdown defence on one end while making opponents pay with lethal shooting on the other.
Identifying and understanding a role helped him become an integral member of the Spurs, punishing teams whenever they paid too much attention to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. The Miami Heat bore the full brunt of it in the 2010 NBA Finals, understandably choosing to restrict the future Hall of Famers any way they could and take their chances with everyone else.
Over the first five games of that championship series, Green shed his role player skin for stardom, averaging 18 points, four rebounds, and 1.6 blocks while making 25 of his 38 three-point attempts on his way to a then Finals record for most threes. Throw in spending virtually all of his time on the court defending either Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, and it was Green receiving Finals MVP talk.
The magical run came to an abrupt halt over the final two games. Green shot just 2-for-19 from the field and the Spurs lost the penultimate game in excruciating fashion before Miami pulled away late in the fourth quarter of Game 7.
San Antonio left no stone unturned the next season, ruthlessly disposing of the Heat in five games in a Finals rematch which made Green only the third Tar Heel since James Worthy and Michael Jordan to win the top prize at both the NCAA and pro ranks.
A key component of being a premier role player is knowing your limits and not stepping out of line, too. Draymond Green has redefined what a role player is and shown that he can be an All-Star and defensive player of the year, but he's walked the tightrope along the way and his suspension for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals played a pivotal role in the Cleveland Cavaliers becoming the first team to overcome a 3-1 Finals deficit.
Carmelo Anthony has been an All-Star for years and will likely be in the Hall of Fame one day, but his inability to adjust to smaller roles in the latter stages of his career with either Oklahoma City or Houston show that the role of magician's assistant is not an easy one.
Green, on the other hand, excels between the lines in much the same way the Derek Fishers and Robert Horrys of the world did. Both have multiple rings, an extensive résumé of big shots, and the ability to be both anonymous yet right where they need to be on cue.
That's why when Green was traded from the Spurs to Toronto, he was never going to be just a "throw-in" in the Kawhi Leonard-DeMar DeRozan swap. Salaries needed to be matched, but so did goals. The Spurs were trending away from championship contention while the Raptors were headed in the opposite direction. This is someone who has figured out the it that Toronto has been so desperate to find.
"I think it's pretty amazing that a guy like him figures out that if he can stand out there and make open shots, he's pretty useful on the team," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said after a practice earlier in the season. "Understands that there's a process and a work ethic and a time commitment and a mental work ethic that you gotta have the confidence to do what he does. And then he also says then well I better be able to guard a little bit, too, if I want to stay out there. He's really good, he's smart defensively, he's a great team defender, and then he'll go to work on somebody when he needs to. He'll chase a [J.J.] Redick or somebody [like that] around all night long and make their night difficult which is again a tremendous sacrifice.
"Biggest thing, though, is he will take them and make them in big games and he's already proven that."
Bringing his talents north of the border also meant bringing his pets. Yes, Jade wasn't alone anymore. With the help of a girlfriend to manage the upkeep, Green added two pomskies—Gizmo and Nuke (mix of Pomeranian and Siberian husky)—and Jon Snow, a snow glow boa constrictor to join Jade (and replace Lightning, an albino boa that Green had to let go of because he was "too defensive") over the past couple of years. Jon Snow unfortunately died recently, at under a year old, after struggling to develop immunity and repeatedly vomiting food.
As for the logistical aspects of bringing the pets to another country, the dogs were straightforward, while the Government of Canada's Health of Animals Regulations would allow Jade and Jon to be imported from an area considered an "equivalent risk area for an animal of that species." That meant sending Jade and Jon by plane from San Antonio to Buffalo. A certificate from an official veterinarian from the place of export would also be required identifying both Jade and Jon for the reptiles they are and the area of origin. To complete the process, a veterinary inspection within five days of export in which the animals are deemed medically healthy and "fit to travel." Then, just drive them across the border to his home in west Toronto.
Green had people he could depend on to get everything done, but he insists "it wasn't a big deal." The bigger challenge was when he first brought together the dogs and the snakes.
"Gizmo doesn't make a lot of noise, but when I would take [Jade] out at first, he would growl or bark because he was scared not knowing what it was," Green says. "Him and Nuke are both very interested in what they are, try to sniff and lick 'em and see what they are, try to play with them.
"Usually I'm holding Jade, they're too big for her to eat. She usually just backs away, usually she's in the tank. I'm monitoring what's going on," he says somewhat reassuringly.
Playing with a younger group and as one of the veterans of the Raptors, the monitoring continues on the court as well. Green's trying to help get everyone on the same championship page. With his wealth of experience, it's a challenge he embraces. After all, if he can bring together a dog and a snake, how hard can some humans be?
"Obviously, it's a younger group, but [we have] a lot of depth, athleticism. Try to [help] develop IQ a little bit, maturity, but for the most part these guys were here ready to work since the summertime," Green says. "Get the job done and try to be an important piece of the puzzle we're trying to make something special out of."
It takes time to build a champion team, something the Raptors did mostly without Leonard and Green. It puts the importance of the young players understanding what it takes at a premium, something Green believes is fortunately not that far away. As he discusses the very subject, Green suddenly yells out to Anunoby, "Lower base, OG!" as the second-year player works on his post moves. Every detail is crucial, no stone can be left unturned. Even during an interview off to the side, he's zoned in on making his teammates better. These are the lessons he's learned and now passes along.
From a kid who didn't really know what he was getting into when buying a snake from a pet store and who lost an NBA job inside his first two seasons, he's now a 31-years-wise NBA champion with over a 1,000 made 3-pointers to his name.
People will look to Leonard and Lowry when there are big shots to hit and bigger stops to make, but just like those baby boa bites, it's Green who strikes when no one's looking, and that's when you can't stop the bleeding.