Donte Greene: ‘Sacramento Will Always be Home for Me’

In the labyrinth of hallways outside the Barclays Center locker rooms, moments after his fourth game with the BIG3, Donte Greene wipes beads of sweat from his forehead with his yellow Killer 3s warmup shirt and rubs his full, scraggly beard that’s peppered, here and there, with gray hairs.

Towering at 6-foot-11, the former Kings wing – possessing the prototypical size and length of a power forward, combined with the range and speed of a shooting guard – was, in many ways, ahead of his time in the NBA.

Greene, now 31, poses a mismatch problem in a halfcourt, three-on-three league flooded with long-retired star names of yesteryear, gracefully gliding to the basket when defended by slow-footed big men and elevating over smaller opponents for pull-up threes that are impossible to block.

A last-second loss, despite his season-high 18 points, stings, but the Maryland native, seven years removed from his last NBA appearance, is soaking in every second he spends back under the bright lights.

“There’s nothing like being in an NBA arena and just shooting the ball,” he said with a wide grin. “Just the atmosphere is always different. It feels like I’m right at home.”

There’s something that sticks out about this particular arena, too. He’s in downtown Brooklyn – a city he nearly called his NBA home for the 2012-13 season – for the first time since a freak injury during a workout, mere days before the start of training camp, cruelly altered the course of his career.

But there’s no bitterness in his voice, no resentment when he speaks, shrugging his shoulders as he recounts a basketball journey that’s steered him across the globe, while intermittently high-fiving friends and one-time teammates passing through the halls.

“I was with the Nets; we actually came under a verbal agreement for me to come here,” he said. “I ended up breaking my ankle before I had signed the contract. I still played Summer League with them (after) I came back from my injury. So, I was here for a little bit.”

In late April 2013, Greene signed with Memphis, and despite not taking off his warmups, was on the active Playoff roster during the Grizzlies’ run to the Western Conference Finals. Four months later, he was traded to the Celtics, but opted out of his contract to embark for the Chinese Basketball Association.

The decision, more than anything, came down to playing time. Perhaps he could’ve latched on with another NBA team as a role player who’d see sporadic minutes, he explains, but overseas, he could showcase the versatility and shot-making that led him to become a highly-touted prospect.

“China is a big market for basketball, and it was a chance for me to be able to get on the floor and play,” he said. “Going overseas, you’re the man. You’re expected to go over there and produce and to try and win. It was a good experience for me.”

Aside from two Summer League stints, Greene has hooped internationally ever since, voyaging to basketball havens far and wide, including in Dubai, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines.

He misses his four kids the most during the many months of the year when he’s out of the country, and admits the language barrier can be intimidating. But the former first-round pick doesn’t pine for the accommodations that came with being an NBA athlete; as long as he’s playing the game he loves for a living, he’s unfazed by multi-connection flights, smoldering-hot bus rides and culinary question marks.

Besides, Greene, the son of a National Security Agency employee, is used to life on the road after accompanying his mother on tours through Asia and Europe. Born on the U.S. Air Force Base in Munich, Germany, he attended school in Japan and spent parts of his childhood in South Korea, Guam and Hawaii, before settling in Baltimore, Md.

“I was a military kid, so I adapt pretty quickly and I’m flexible with things,” he said. “Overseas life, it’s not hard. It’s actually a little easier than living in the states. It’s stress free. Once you get there, you feel the vibes. Everybody’s just living life and enjoying themselves.”

Even when he’s halfway around the world, Greene says Sacramento is “always a part of [his] heart,” and grows nostalgic reminiscing on his four years in a Kings uniform.

“I miss it a lot,” he said. “Sacramento has some of the greatest fans in the world. They really love and embrace their team. I wasn’t even drafted by Sacramento, and they embraced me and took me and my family in. It will forever be home to me. There are a lot of good memories.”

There was the time he blocked Kobe Bryant’s patented fadeaway jumper in the closing seconds of a tie game and unleashed a guttural scream as the crowd thundered in celebration.

There was, of course, the night when Tyreke Evans sank a game-winning, 49-foot buzzer-beater to stun everyone inside the arena except No. 20, who leapt onto the court with his arms above his head before the ball swished through the net.

“Once Tyreke let it go, I knew it was going in, so I was the first one running,” Greene chuckles. “That’s one of the best moments, for sure.”

His hilarious self-titled online show, which debuted his alter ego, Doratio Kane, gave fans a unique glimpse of his fun-loving personality, as he facetiously investigated a popcorn prank and paddle-boated around a lake with Jason Thompson, a former Kings teammate who remains one of his best friends to this day.

“People still, around the world, talk about the show; it’s on YouTube and people still watch it,” Greene said. “It was a blast. A lot of people ask me to bring it back, but it wouldn’t be the same show (now).”

During the 2011 NBA lockout, he took it upon himself to organize the Good Squad Classic, a charity exhibition game at UC Davis Pavilion – a significant gesture that will always be remembered in Sacramento. He even planned a second-annual outing the following summer, despite no longer playing for the Kings, but cancelled the event due to CBA restrictions.

“It was a lockout, so Sacramento needed some basketball,” he said. “A lot of fans had hit me up and were wondering if somebody would put a game together in Sacramento. I got a group of guys together, we put our heads together, radio stations picked us up and it took off. It was great.”

Nowadays, the city is more of a home away from home for the perpetually-traveling Greene; he resides in the suburbs of Baltimore, but visits Sacramento as often as his schedule allows, to spend time with his young daughter and cousin.

He’s matured since his days with the Kings during his early 20s and overcame growing pains, he says, and has evolved as both a basketball player and a father.

“I’ve had my ups and downs throughout life and I just try to keep a smile on my face and be positive and just learn from everything,” he said. “Just continue to try to be the best man I can be and a good father. My kids help me in every facet of growing into the man that I want to be.”

Almost on cue, his youngest son, Dylan, springs open the visitor’s locker room door and tugs on Greene’s shorts.

“You’re the best dad,” the five-year-old says.

Greene, beaming with pride, thanks him with a loving smile and wraps his arm around the child’s shoulders.

The BIG3 presented an opportunity for the NBA veteran to play in front of his family, and he’s positioning himself for a return to the League, so his kids, now old enough to understand the game, could see their father compete at the highest level.

“I’m always working; trying to get a vet camp or something,” Greene said. “You never know. This summer will be very interesting, so hopefully I get that opportunity.”