Treasuring The Madness
March 17, 2014
Danny Green knew the Final Four was big. He didn’t know how big until he set foot on the floor and looked around. The arena was massive. People were everywhere, the atmosphere charged with the roar of 44,500 fans.
“It was like a football stadium,” Green says. “It was overwhelming.”
Green had followed the NCAA men’s basketball tournament as a kid in North Babylon, N.Y. He’d played in his first tournament game as a North Carolina freshman in 2006. But two years later, as he was about to start his first Final Four game in San Antonio, Green reeled at the weight of the event and the size of the Alamodome.
That’s one NCAA Tournament memory of many that remains fresh. Green marched through the madness of March four times, advanced to two Final Fours and won one national championship with North Carolina.
He remembers the anxiety that preceded his first game -- a victory against Murray State in ‘06 -- as vividly as the elation that followed his last, a triumph over Michigan State in the ‘09 final.
When the NCAA Tournament comes to the AT&T Center with second and third round games on March 21 and 23, no San Antonio Spur will better understand the hope and heartbreak, the wild unpredictability than Green. He played in 17 NCAA Tournament games. He battled nerves and played in overtime. He suffered an injury and played through pain. He ended his career as almost no one does: catching the sound of his father’s voice through the din of celebration.
Five years removed from college, March remains a favorite time of year for Green. He’ll be in Sacramento, playing the Kings, when the two-day tournament opens at the AT&T Center with eight teams. He’ll be back in San Antonio when the third round ends with two teams advancing to the Sweet 16.
“I’d definitely like to catch some of those games,” Green says. “It’s a great time of year for everybody. In March Madness, there are a lot of upsets, a lot of buzzer beaters, a lot of craziness going on.”
The craziness for Green began his freshman year. His nerves tightened before his first NCAA Tournament game. He felt butterflies. The anxiety did not seem appropriate. Third-seeded North Carolina was facing 14th-seeded Murray State. No one expected the defending national champion Tar Heels to repeat -- not with the loss of four starters to the NBA -- but few expected them to struggle against a program with one NCAA Tournament victory in its history.
“I was nervous,” Green says. North Carolina played like it but won, 69-65. Green felt the first sting of the Madness when George Mason, the 11th seed, upset his Tar Heels in the second round, 65-60.
“We were very disappointed,” Green says. “But that gave us motivation to come back and play better.”
The Tar Heels came back stronger in 2007. They swept through the first two rounds, dispatched USC in the Sweet 16, and led Georgetown by 11 in the Elite Eight. On the brink of a trip to the Final Four, North Carolina collapsed. The Hoyas sank a three-pointer to force overtime. The Tar Heels couldn’t buy a basket. The Hoyas couldn’t miss. Defeat was crushing. “It was a very quiet locker room,” Green says.
The locker room was loud in 2008. North Carolina beat Louisville, 83-73, in the Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four. Green savored the sights and sounds of San Antonio, everything from the River Walk to the buildup to the tipoff against Kansas. The Tar Heels, again, fell short, 84-66, and regrouped for a final run.
How does it feel to win that last game? To end your college career with a championship? It’s hard for Green to put words to the emotion. For him, in the 2009 tournament multiple subplots converged into one shining moment. In the semifinal game against Villanova, Green pulled a stomach muscle. The pain cut so deep he didn’t know if he could go against Michigan State in the final.
Then there was his father. Danny Green Sr. missed most of his son’s college career, serving time in prison for a crime he insists he did not commit. A plea deal allowed senior to be released in time to follow junior’s last season. The father watched the championship game live in Detroit. Junior played. North Carolina won. As the Tar Heels celebrated, a father’s shout reached his son below. Their eyes connected.
“There were all sorts of emotions,” the son says. “It was a very surreal moment.”
Another run of madness begins soon. Danny Green can feel the excitement building. He is a rarity, an NBA veteran who played four years in college, advancing deeper into the NCAA Tournament each season, until he cut down a championship net.
“I will never,” Green says, “forget those years.”
2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Second and Third Rounds at the AT&T Center, Friday & Sunday, March 21 & 23.
A limited number of single-session and all-session tickets to preliminary round games of the 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship remain available for fan purchase. Tickets are available at the AT&T Center box office, online at ncaa.com/mbbtickets, attcenter.com or charge by phone at (800) 745-3000
*Times and ticket prices are subject to change without notice, Additional service charges may be added.