Blacktop aids Green’s NBA survival

NEW YORK — The shots went up one by one over the course of a week, all of them with the same result.

At one point over a four-game stretch, Spurs guard Danny Green had missed 17 in a row, the kind of misfiring streak that can crush a young player, much less a 24-year-old journeyman still playing for a contract and a career.

As the misses piled up, Green did not flinch. He did not blink. He did not betray much emotion at all.

“Just got to keep shooting,” Green said.

It is a fearlessness forged on the famed blacktops of New York City, where Green spent his formative years learning the game from basketball’s toughest crowd.

At Rucker Park, for example, the timid are eaten alive. Or worse, forgotten altogether.

“On a playground court, if you’re scared to shoot, you’ll be known as a non-threat,” Green said. “And then you won’t get picked up to play.”

Green grew up in the Long Island hamlet of North Babylon, equidistant between the posh celebrity hangouts of the Hamptons and the gray hardscrabble of the city.

There is no question where Green spent most of his time as a youth.

The tattoo on the inside of Green’s right wrist, one of scores etched across his body, says it all: “Made in New York.”

“The city,” he said, “is like Mecca.”

In his third NBA season, and second with the Spurs, Green has emerged as a key piece of coach Gregg Popovich’s rotation. In 22 games with star guard Manu Ginobili sidelined with a broken hand, Green averaged 24.4 minutes.

For the season, Green — a roster afterthought coming into training camp — has averaged 7.4 points, including games of 24 against Denver and 20 against Miami.

Now that Ginobili has returned, the 6-foot-6 Green — who has made two straight starts — aims to keep a grip on playing time.

He won’t go back to the end of the bench without a fight. From the time Green arrived in San Antonio late last season, Popovich admired his willingness to “let it fly.”

“It does show certain confidence in one’s abilities,” Popovich said. “He’s not awed by the challenge of making it in the NBA. It’s important you see someone has that in their system, that fire.”

Raised by a single father, Danny Sr., after his mother left, Green enjoyed a comfortable suburban existence on Long Island, where he starred at St. Mary’s High School before joining a future national championship team at North Carolina.

In 2006, just after Green’s freshman season at UNC, his father — a high school basketball coach — was arrested in conjunction with a massive drug raid, during which authorities confiscated 420 pounds of cocaine.

Green Sr. spent two years in prison for what the family says was a case of mistaken identity.

Perhaps the younger Green shows no fear on the basketball court because he knows what real fear is. There was a chance Green Sr. could have done 20 years.

Another of Green’s tattoos — an enormous portrait of him and his father together spanning the breadth of his back — commemorates that feeling.

“Just so I never forget,” he said.

Neither has Green forgotten the lessons of the New York City blacktop, which still guide him today.

“You’ve got to have a kind of attitude,” Green said. “Some of those guys are real dirty, physical. They talk a lot of trash. That’s what New York basketball is about.”

Green’s teammates have been equal parts surprised and impressed with his rapid ascension.

Brought to San Antonio twice last season on the recommendation of vice president of basketball operations Danny Ferry, who as general manager in Cleveland drafted him 46th overall in 2009, Green got his big break this season, on Jan. 4.

With Golden State’s Monta Ellis going nuts on the Spurs in Ginobili’s first game out, Popovich turned to Green, who at this time last season was in the Development League. Ellis finished with 38 points, but Green limited him to 4-of-11 shooting in the fourth quarter as the Spurs rallied for a victory.

“It couldn’t happen to a better person,” small forward Richard Jefferson said. “The only thing I ever tell him is to slow down a bit, because he gets so excited. He’s a young kid playing well.”

Defense got Green on the floor, and defense is what kept him there throughout an 0-for-17 shooting slump.

Having the courage to step up and shoot No. 18 only aided his cause.

When that shot finally went in Saturday in New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from where Green’s game was born, a weight was lifted.

Green finished with 10 points in the win over the Nets, making half of his eight field goals and a pair of 3-pointers.

He figures the inhabitants of the New York City playgrounds, the toughest crowd in sports, would approve.

“You don’t want to let anybody disrespect your game,” Green said. “That’s probably one of the biggest things you learn growing up in New York.”

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