Gerald Green, Rockets fan favorite, coach, not retired and won a G League title in 2022


It’s 11 a.m. on Memorial Day and Gerald Green, 36, is bent over in a gym, completely drenched in sweat. He speaks to a freshman who seeks advice from the NBA veteran who has seen just about everything in his 15-year career. A few yards away, his longtime trainer, Kenny Ellis, coordinates the day’s training.

Green steps up his conditioning as he prepares for his next adventure, the Big3. Because of the way the Big3 is played – a bit faster frame – he wants to get used to playing faster. Eight-minute quarters, four quarters per game with a clock running. Eight seconds to cross the half court, 10 seconds left after that.

It’s about adapting, and Green was able to do that for more than a decade in the NBA, including stints with the Rockets in 2008 and from 2017 to 2020. In October, he announced his retirement and joined the Rockets as a player development coach. In January, however, he came out of retirement and signed with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the G League, helping the Vipers win the G League title.

Green sat down with Athleticism for an extensive interview covering his decision to retire and come out of retirement, his time in Houston in a new role and the glory days, why he went to the G League, his love for the young Rockets and more .

(Parts have been edited for clarity and brevity.)

If I remember correctly, last summer was a difficult time for you. Coming out of injury, trying to get back into the NBA, contemplating retirement… how was it mentally?

Man, that was tough. Last summer, I was constantly in the gym with Kenny, like, every day. I felt like I took my training to a whole new level when it came to something that I hadn’t really done in my career. When I went to Brooklyn for minicamp and didn’t get invited to boot camp, mentally, that kind of bothered me. I felt like, fuck, I’m not really good enough. But I knew in my head that I knew I could play this game. I’ve been around this game for 15, 16 years. Mentally, I felt that if I couldn’t get into training camp, it was over for me.

So I went to the Rockets. The Fertittas and Rafael Stone gave me the unique opportunity to be a player development coach. I am so grateful for this opportunity. It’s something I really want to do after basketball if I can still get that opportunity. But just being around the game, being around the players, I knew I had so much game in me. Retiring at the time probably wasn’t the best decision for me, mentally. Me having this meeting with Stone and Fertitta, they both supported me. Last summer was an interesting summer. I learned a lot.

Having served only as a player all your life, what was your mindset when you returned to the Rockets, the team you love, albeit in a different role than you’re used to?

It was great. I loved it, bro. It was drugs, man. Be a Rockets coach? Like, come on. I can’t do better than that. I was so excited about this situation. That’s why I retired; I was like, ‘Oh, that’s perfect.’ Another dream has come true, life after basketball. I couldn’t have been in a better situation. I arrive full of joy because it was so exciting to be with these guys. Even though I wasn’t playing, it was just exciting to be with them, teaching young people and making an impact.

It was just when they asked me to start playing pickup with the youngsters, the engine started and I couldn’t turn it off. There were times when I was thinking about training, I’m here thinking about what I would do if I was in the game, and I knew that was where something was wrong. I have to get back to the game.

It must have been tough for you, still able to compete with those guys on the floor and get that itch back.

To play with these guys and be able to compete. And then these guys also tell me, like fuckin’ G, you really should be in the league. It really helped me. Even some people in the coaching staff said that I should really play and that I shouldn’t be here as a coach. I needed to pursue my dream because it’s something that doesn’t come true. I want to be able to set an example for all the guys who think their career is over, but dig a little deeper into the bag now that you’ve revamped it. I want to be the poster child of how you should be a pro, how you should approach the game, how you should take the game seriously. I’ve been through it all: (straight up) out of high school, overseas, out of the league, in the league, signing 10 days off on the couch. I did everything.

So why did you pick the Rio Grande Vipers out of all the G League franchises?

First, he was affiliated with the Rockets. I knew Mahmoud (Abdelfattah) as a coach, he is a very good coach, one of the best coaches in G League – he should be a head coach in this league one day. So it was obvious. Obviously, I knew Usman (Garuba). He would go there, Josh Christopher would go there, (Daishen) Nix was there, Trevelin Queen was there. They were my guys that I would work with on player development. It made sense to go play with these guys. I already know them. They know me, I know their game, I know this system. Instead of trying to go somewhere else and try to fit in with players I may not know, try to understand the system that I may not be familiar with, just let me stick to something I know, stick with players I already know. And then we ended up winning the ring.

The Rio Grande Valley Vipers, with Green in the middle, celebrate winning the G League. (David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

Coming in, what kind of role did you expect to have with them?

Initially, I felt like my role was exactly what it was – to come in, to be a leader, to lead by example. I knew I was going to play. You won’t come out of retirement without playing. That was the whole reason – I need to get rid of that fuel. I knew I was going to be a guy who sometimes had to make sacrifices, sometimes not play, but that’s the role of an NBA veteran. Especially when you’re an OG in this game, you do things like that. I had my time and I had my opportunities to improve myself and my family and achieve my dreams. Some of these G League guys may never get the chance to go where I am.

So I’m not going to stay here – if they have an opportunity or if they’re playing well – and not cheer them on. Really follow what the coach says, because Mahmoud knows exactly what he’s doing, and just try to teach the youngsters, give them a game that I didn’t understand. When I was younger, I didn’t really have a lot of veterans teaching me how to be a better pro, how to stay in his league. They taught me other things that I don’t want to talk about. I just wanted to give the game back to the guys, and it worked out perfectly.

How does it feel to win all this? Is a G League title different from anything you’ve achieved in your career?

Shit yeah. I loved it, bro. Having my kids, getting married, getting drafted and winning the championship are by far the four greatest moments of my life. And I don’t care if it’s the G League. It was a very difficult task that we had to accomplish. I felt like I just won the NBA Finals, I’m not going to lie. I’m still so high right now. Because you’re a champion, they can never take that away from you. There aren’t many guys who come out of retirement, go into any league and win a championship. So I congratulate myself on being and staying ready. Man, that was one of the best things in the world for sure.

What do you miss the most about the James Harden/Chris Paul days in Houston? It seemed like a pretty tight-knit group you had?

Man, I miss those days, bro. I feel like we didn’t really give him a chance like that, you know? I know a lot of circumstances, a lot of guys are free agents and guys have to do what they have to do to take care of their families. But I really wish we could bring this band back. CP pulling his hamstrings (in 2018) haunts me to this day. I know if he doesn’t, we not only beat Golden State, but we win the NBA Finals that year. No disrespect to that Cleveland team that year, I just think we were the better team. When the CP got hurt, of course, he was our floor general. He was the one who helped us get better shots that we weren’t getting sometimes. James Harden was such an attacking juggernaut that sometimes he got the ball to us in the right places. But sometimes that just wouldn’t be the right place – for some people. Someone like me, you can throw the ball anywhere and I’ll shoot it because of who I am. But you have other guys on the team who need the ball in a certain place. CP was better at finding these guys when they were there than James, so we missed CP for that aspect. But again, we should have won anyway. I just feel like if we had CP it would have been a no brainer.

I know the losing part stings, but just for all of you during this time, it looked like fun during those years.

Man, that was crazy. We were so close. I mean, we’re all still close to this day. Me, TA (Trevor Ariza), Ryan Anderson, Nene, Tarik Black, PJ Tucker. The list is long, I know I miss some people. We were tight. We always talk about those moments. Everyone in that organization knew it was the closest the team had gotten in a long time. We had the greatest efficiency in NBA history. I don’t think it will ever be broken. It was a good time. It was a good time.

You spent quite a bit of time with these young Rockets. What do you think of guys like Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr. and the band?

We have the next one. They followed. Like, I love this team. They had a long time to grow; they have a lot to grow. Jalen is a stallion. Scoot (Porter) is a stallion. Al P (Alperen Şengün), I can’t help but love him. They have great guys, but then you have Josh Christopher who is a workaholic. We had to lock the gym so he couldn’t enter the gym; that’s how much he wanted to work. You still have Eric Gordon, who is obviously at the end of his career but can still compete. Like, I really think this team can be a very good team in the future. They got the No. 3 pick this year. They always get great choices. The sky is the future of the Rockets.

(Top photo: Mary Kate Ridgway/NBAE via Getty Images)


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