Draymond Green, whose feet regularly find the sensitive fleshy bits between his opponents’ legs, has taken a pretty self-righteous tack in his response to critics: Green says the people who make the rules for the NBA just don’t get how human bodies work.
Before we dig into that rich vein, let’s survey the recent history in Draymond Green leg-flailing.
Before the start of the 2016-2017 season, NBA officials were told to pay particular attention to “unnatural acts,” a term referring not to pagan rites but to balls-kicking. Memories of unnatural acts during last season’s playoffs remained fresh: Green nearly severed a branch of the Adams family tree, and earned a timely suspension that helped the Warriors blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
Attracting a practically tailor-made referee diktat hasn’t seemed to faze Green much. Last Thursday against the Rockets, officials awarded him a Flagrant 1 for the extraordinary Rockette kick that let him touch toe to beard, citing an “unnatural leg extension.”
And two days later, against the Suns, Green literally kicked Marquese Chriss’s ass.
In the brief window between these incidents, Green offered his thoughts on the ruling. He leaned heavily into the idea that rules that curtail the behavior of athletes shouldn’t be made by bureaucratic nerds who haven’t previously banged in the paint or gone up for strong dunks:
It’s funny how you can tell me how I get hit and how my body is supposed to react. I didn’t know the league office was that smart when it came to body movements. I’m not sure if they took kinesiology for their positions to tell you how your body is going to react when you get hit in a certain position. Or you go up and you have guys who jump to the ceiling. A lot of these guys that make the rules can’t touch the rim, yet they tell you how you’re way up there in the air which way your body [is supposed to go].
I don’t understand that. That’s like me going in there and saying, ‘Hey, you did something on your paperwork wrong.’ I don’t know what your paperwork looks like. But it is what it is ... Let them keep telling people how their body reacts, I guess. They need to go take a few more kinesiology classes, though. Maybe they can take a taping class or functional movement classes. Let me know how the body works, because clearly mine don’t work the right way.
To that end, we found someone who could let us know how the body works: a NYC-based exercise physiologist, who’s taken plenty of kinesiology classes.
A basketball fan, she holds a master’s in applied exercise physiology and works as a personal trainer and research assistant. The goal here was to figure out if kinesiology could explain Green’s martial arts, maybe by revealing them as natural, unavoidable byproducts of good-faith basketball plays. When presented with the recent Draymond tape, she emailed this breakdown:
While I don’t think there is necessarily malintent on the part of Draymond, there appears to be a level of carelessness to his motions and I will tell you why. Jumping requires upward propulsion and because muscles cannot push, they only pull, all of the effort through the kinetic chain should be focused on extending through the posterior chain. In other words, it is mechanically counterproductive to lift a leg in the middle or end of a jump. If you really think about it, lifting the thigh at the peak of a jump would only inhibit ones action of momentum. If you are trying to get up, lifting your leg through the psoas and or quad/ITB is working against your jumping musculature.
In regards to some of his lunging, the same principles apply. Lateral movement requires a reach outward and away with the leg. Unlike soccer, where the leg may be reaching for a ball in the air, basketball players move laterally along the floor to either block the lane or catch/throw/fake with the ball. For Draymond to lift his leg into the air, high enough to hit another player, is not kinesthetically sound. If you ask me, it’s careless.
Everyone is expected to avoid dangerous activity on the court and Draymond is not going to be able to use kinesiology as an excuse to bring his legs into the air in the middle of a jump or lunge, especially when it holds back his own game in some ways.
Her critique, as an expert, probably aligns with your intuition, as a human being who has ever before jumped. Leg-flailing isn’t part of the most effective way to jump. You couldn’t explain away the leg-flailing with the notion it is the natural way to jump, nor that it helps you jump better. (To be clear, athletes aren’t held to a standard that says they can only perform those motions that optimize their performance. The standard here is just that you should play the game in a way that doesn’t grossly endanger the balls, asses, and faces of your colleagues.)
If not to help him jump better, what else could explain Green’s wayward limbs?
Let’s bracket the possibility that it’s malicious and consider another facet of Green’s defense: the notion that people just don’t understand “how your body is going to react when you get hit in a certain position.” Although a cursory glance at the leg-kicking history tells us that not all of his scissor kicks result from serious contact, let’s roll with this idea. A very generous supporter could marshal evidence for this claim, because there’s some truth to it: legs do fly, regularly. If you take enough photos at an average game, you’re likely to capture a sliver of time like this one, which features no Green but plenty of aerial feet and knees:
Is Draymond just like everyone else, only cruel fate has made his feet to kiss opponents more often than most? To this, our exercise physiologist says:
It’s difficult to say with 100% certainty that his reaction is over-exaggerated ... but when I watch the clip it appears over-exaggerated and highly placed. It is possible that while being knocked midair his legs will elevate due to the change in momentum, but the degree to which this happens with Draymond is a lot! I also don’t see this very often from the rest of the dynamic NBA players he faces. I think he is looking to legitimize his lack of control or care in these scenarios. He really should work on his stability and control because it will help him be a better and safer player and avoid injury to himself and others.
So, can Draymond justify his behavior by mounting the defense “I’m just playing basketball the best I can”? No, because these kicks don’t actually help you play basketball. Is it reasonable to say, “That’s just how my body responds to contact”? No, because you are not as totally at the mercy of kinesiology as you claim to be, and even by the lights of kinesiology, your kicks look overblown. Is Green’s agent B.J. Armstrong correct in arguing that the NBA, by installing new officiating measures intended to protect the balls of its players, is merely acting “with profits in mind”? No, and also, what the hell?
The only useful framework for the NBA to examine this behavior holds that even if a player’s intention is benign—and in Green’s case, that’s a pretty hard sell—players are generally responsible for where their limbs go. Keep them away from junks.