Willie Green: High Tops and High Hats
By: Clyde Verdin,
February 14, 2011

Right around the two-minute mark in the first quarter of many Hornets games this season, its not unusual to find the 6-foot-4 frame of reserve guard Willie Green make his way to the scorers table to check in for one of the teams starters.

Whether its playing at the two-guard position, or sometimes even running the point, Greens main focus whenever hes in the game is to make sure the rhythm of the team is never thrown off by playing carelessly or recklessly, and sparking the offense whenever the team needs a boost of energy.

What shouldnt come as a surprise to fans that enjoy Greens play and hard work on the court comes in the form of one his favorite hobbies off the court: playing the drums.

Motown and Hitsville U.S.A are two labels that have been used to describe the Detroit natives hometown, which has produced some of the best musical talent in Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Bob Seger, among others.

As a kid, Green spent time playing every sport under the sun, including swimming and diving, but found that basketball was the sport that he wanted to stick with the most.

I used to watch my older cousins and uncles play basketball, would watch the Pistons and just knew that I wanted to play basketball, Green said. My uncle Gary Green saw something in me and he really molded me and helped me become the player I am now.

That kind of work ethic manifested itself one Christmas when Green was insistent on wanting to have a drum set for Christmas, getting inspiration from needing to stay focused, of all places, at church where he spent many hours as a kid growing up.

In church you always need to have something to do, and there was always something about the sound of a beat that got to me, he said. I begged them for it and got it when I was either seven or eight years old, and once I got it they never got another peaceful night of sleep.

Crediting gospel as one of his favorite musical genres to play, Green started learning how to play rhythm and blues and hip-hop, wailing on everything from concrete steps to overturned plastic buckets.

It didnt matter what was around me, Id find a way to use it to make some kind of beat, Green said.

One person who understands the rigors of a professionally-demanding full-time job that takes you to different ends of the earth is another man also named Willie Green, of the world famous, Grammy-winning Neville Brothers, that is.

Given the nickname Mean Willie Green, the 50-plus-year-old drummer has seen the globe through the eyes of a touring musician, and knows firsthand how much work it takes to master any kind of art.

Just like Willie, my family saw I had a gift for music early in my life and from there it took me on a whirlwind ride that Im still on to this day, Green said.

When the two met in his New Orleans practice studio recently, paintings of sports and music intertwined in each work of art, almost like the notes of a line of music. Or, a perfectly crafted inbounds play.

As the two talked about influences and musical stylings, Mean Willie asked what it would take for him to be able to suit up for the Hornets sometime in the near future.

Well wed have to find a way to turn back the hands of time first, the guard good-naturedly said, laughing. Then wed go from there.

The two then began to jam on the massive set in one of the back rooms in the shotgun house in Uptown New Orleans, as each hit of the drum heads and bass drum resonated a few feet outside of the home.

Its incredible, the player Green said as he watched the person who drove the rhythm in one of Nevilles biggest hits, the song Congo Square. Just watching him do his thing is an unbelievable sight.

For about an hour each one took a turn on the set, and even had a chance to play together and improvised for over five minutes. Once finished, they exchanged information and Willie the player invited his new friend Willie the musician to a future Hornets game, ending a day of bombastic beats.

Two men, from opposite ends of the spectrum, yet connected through the universal language of music. Even though Mean Willie probably learned little about the in-and-outs of the triangle offense, he was able to spot one thing that the two had in common above anything else.

As a musician, Ive been able to travel the world and live out a dream I never thought would be possible, he said. I can tell that Willie has the same attitude though playing professional basketball and living his dream as well, and its definitely a blessed thing.

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