HOUSTON — Gerald Green, sporting a black Rockets sweat suit, red Houston cap and easygoing smile, roams throughout the Rooms To Go store with Dayla Suber.
Green offers his opinion on couches and dining room chairs, but the NBA journeyman knows his limits when asked to consult on which pillows match best with the couch they picked.
“I’m not an interior decorator,” Green jokes. “I just shoot 3s.”
Suber is a nursing student at Prairie View A&M, and to her, her relatives and several other families still recovering from the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Harvey late last summer, Green is so much more than a 3-point specialist. They care much more about his work with the Relief Gang, a volunteer group committed to helping hurricane victims who are single mothers, elderly or can’t get government aid, than his status as a member of the Houston Rockets.
For Green, perhaps the sweetest part of his storybook comeback — from unemployed and seriously pondering retirement to playing a key role for the championship contender he grew up rooting for — is the platform it provides him to help people rebuilding their homes and lives in his home city.
“When I signed with the Rockets, I just kind of felt like that was my calling card,” Green says, relaxing on a couch in Rooms To Go after the shopping spree. “I’m going to be here. I want to help out.
“I’m going to continue to keep putting [effort] in and keep helping out as many people as I can using this platform. I like to be able to do that. I like to see smiles [from the people] that you can help out. And right now, the city is still in need. It’s almost been a year, and it’s not back the same.
“It’s getting there. It’s going to take a few years, but I want to help in the process. I want to be a part of that process in helping people get back.”
As soon as the historically devastating storm hit, Green did what he could to help, calling around to find a boat he could use to rescue folks from flooded homes. He donated money, supplies and time before reporting to training camp with the Milwaukee Bucks, and continued when he came back home after being cut at the end of preseason.
His heart was willing, but Green lacked direction, doing what he could while wishing he could do more. That changed after he received a congratulatory Instagram direct message from Houston rapper Trae tha Truth after Green signed with the Rockets. Green replied, asking about the Relief Gang, aware that Trae tha Truth and Justin Rogers, aka DJ Mr. Rogers, had put their music careers on hold to commit to the cause.
Soon after, Green was a regular with the Relief Gang on off days, doing everything from unloading supplies at a warehouse the city temporarily allowed them to use, to meeting with families in need and working with the Rockets to secure corporate assistance from companies such as Rooms To Go.
“I was just saluting him for coming to town, especially being from here, playing for the Rockets,” says Frazier Thompson III, aka Trae tha Truth. “He hit me back and was seeing what type of stuff we had going. He was like, ‘Hey, I’d love to come out and support what y’all are doing.’ He came, and it’s been work since.
“He’s been there every step of the way, so we made him part of the Relief Gang with us. He’s juggling really dominating the NBA right now, as far as a team, but at the same time come be grounded in the trenches with us.”
Green literally wears his love for Houston on his left sleeve, which is covered with hometown-inspired ink. The Interstate 45 sign is tattooed on the front of his left shoulder, the Houston Oilers logo on the back. He has “Houston” tatted on his left forearm along with the city’s skyline.
Good luck finding an NBA player more grateful for his opportunity than Green, whose wardrobe includes the throwback jerseys of Hakeem Olajuwon, Earl Campbell, Nolan Ryan and other Houston sports legends.
“I can’t be more happy to be a part of this organization and to rep this city, proud as I am, man,” says Green, who has had the Rockets logo and two different Astros logos braided into his hair this season.
“Anybody tells me I get a chance to rep Houston, I’m gonna rep it proud. It’s all I’ve been wanting to do forever.
“They came at a pivotal moment of my life.”
Green had come to grips with his basketball career coming to an end. He wondered why no team wanted him, confident he could still contribute after starting seven playoff games for the Boston Celtics last season, but 32-year-old Green knew that the odds against him grew every day his phone remained silent.
More than two months passed since the Bucks let Green go. Not a peep from a team. Not in the NBA, not overseas.
“I was just like, there’s no reason why I should be sitting at home,” says Green, who had bounced around to eight NBA teams and played two years in Russia since being drafted straight out of a Houston charter school in 2005.
“I go to Milwaukee, I get cut, that really put a funk in me. I’m like, ‘Man, it’s over for me. I can’t even make it in training camp now?’ I told myself that my New Year’s resolution if I’m not signed, I was going to write out a big statement on my Instagram and tell ’em that it’s over for me, that I’m done, hang my shoes up.”
Finally, on Dec. 27, Green’s phone rang.
His agent, James Dunleavy, called to inform him that the Rockets wanted to sign him. Green thought it was a cruel joke — too good to be true — and he wasn’t in the mood.
He had woken up that morning to news that his 6-year-old son, Jeremiah — who lives with his mother in Boston, where Green’s career began — had an allergic reaction. Green caught the first flight he could to be with his boy.
“Look, man, stop playing me, bro,” Green recalls telling Dunleavy. “I don’t got time to be playing no games. My son is in the hospital. I ain’t got time to be playing no games. This is not a good day.”
Then Green hung up, only to have Dunleavy call right back, convincing his client that he wasn’t kidding. The Rockets, hit hard by injuries, happened to be in Boston for a game the next night. Green spent the night in the hospital with his son, who was in good spirits and recovering well, and surprised him the next morning.
“I’m like, ‘Yo, daddy’s gonna go sign with the Rockets,'” says Green, who always hoped to get another chance to play for Houston after a one-game stint in 2008, when he admits he wasn’t mature enough to be a professional.
“It’s all I’ve been wanting to do forever. They came at a pivotal moment of my life.”
Rockets G Gerald Green, on playing for this hometown team
Green didn’t exactly hit the ground running, going scoreless in 11 minutes during a loss to the Celtics that night. That’s not too surprising, considering the majority of Green’s recent workouts had been shooting in his driveway with Zeus, his Rottweiler, playing defense.
But it didn’t take Green long to find a groove. He scored in double figures the next nine games, including performances of 22, 27 and 29 points. Green couldn’t ask for a better fit than playing in his hometown for coach Mike D’Antoni, who implores his players to take every open 3-pointer and is just fine with them jacking up a few questionable ones.
Green spent some time on the fringe of the Rockets’ rotation as they raced to an NBA-best 65-17 record, but he eliminated any doubt in D’Antoni’s mind that he deserves a significant role in the playoffs, averaging 12.1 points in 22.7 minutes per game during the regular season.
Green starred in the Rockets’ Game 2 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, scoring 21 points to earn a postgame appearance on the podium, where he wore a baby blue Warren Moon Houston Oilers throwback.
“I didn’t envision it because he was laying on his couch,” D’Antoni says. “But obviously he has earned a lot of trust [from] everybody. The thing I like about him is he’ll play 15 minutes and he’ll get 10 3s up and probably make a bunch of them. He’s instant offense.”
Green’s biggest fault this season might be that he has been too fiercely loyal of a teammate at times. He served a two-game suspension along with Trevor Arizafor following his teammate through the back door of the LA Clippers‘ locker room for a postgame confrontation. He was ejected and fined $25,000 for shoving Minnesota center Gorgui Dieng into the Target Center front row in retaliation for a shove of Chris Paul, who ended up paying Green’s fine.
After Gorgui Dieng shoves Chris Paul to the floor, Gerald Green retaliates and pushes Dieng into the first row. Both players are assessed technicals, and Green is ejected.
The snarls, however, are few and far between from Green. He might be leading the league in smiles, his relentless energy and enthusiasm adding to all the good vibes in the Rockets’ locker room.
“For a guy like Gerald who just has so much pride and love for his city, it’s easy,” Rockets superstar James Harden said. “He goes out here, he works his butt off working on his game and then the opportunity came, and he’s taken full advantage of it. He deserves his moment. He deserves the opportunity, and he’s been cherishing it.”
The fresh start is still surreal for Green.
“Every day,” Green says,”I wake up like, ‘Is this really happening?'”
But Green knows that thousands of people in Houston are still living a nightmare, almost eight months after Hurricane Harvey hit. The obligation that Green feels to help led him to the home Suber shares with her aunt, Beverly Houston, and other relatives in Houston’s tough Fifth Ward neighborhood.
Theirs was one of the first homes that Green visited after he connected with Trae tha Truth. Suber had reached out to the Relief Gang Instagram account and was thrilled to quickly hear back from Rogers, unlike other philanthropic celebrities who didn’t respond to her pleas.
The family was living in a tent in the living room. Floodwater had gutted the house, destroying floors, walls, plumbing and all the furniture.
“It’s really sad when you’ve got to look at that, when you’ve got to put in mind that somebody’s really living in these conditions — mold and a tent,” Green says. “It’s not good. I don’t know how anybody could go in that home with any kind of heart or sympathy and not be like, ‘Man, I’ve got to do something for you.’ That’s all I did.”
The Relief Gang made the decision to “adopt” the home. That meant they committed to use funds from their own pockets to purchase the necessary supplies and hire contractors to rebuild the home and make it livable again. They’ve done that for thousands of families, spending approximately $1.3 million in total, according to Trae tha Truth.
The shopping spree at Rooms to Go is one of the final steps in the process. The store donates $4,000 worth of gift cards, but that’s just a starting point.
“Don’t worry about the cost!” Green says to Suber as she ponders which couch she prefers. He insists that she get enough furniture to fill the house, forking over his credit card to cover the excess costs.
“Ahhh!” Suber shrieks with delight, nudging Green in the ribs and thanking him profusely: “I can go home now! Oh my goodness!”
Green, much more than most, really appreciates a happy homecoming.
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