Many NBA fans and players don’t even know that Gerald Green plays basketball without the use of his right ring finger. Green has made his reputation as an NBA marksman and dunk artist despite losing most of the fourth finger on his shooting hand in a childhood accident.
Green, one of the Miami Heat’s serendipitous offseason acquisitions, kept his hand hidden out of habit for years, covering it up with his left hand or his jersey. But he’s recently decided to be more open about a disability that could have terminated his basketball dreams.
Green was 11 years old when he lost most of the finger. He and his younger brother were holding an impromptu jumping contest at home one day, testing their vertical leap against a door. Green was wearing one of his mother’s rings. The ring caught on a nail at the top of the doorway and his finger was nearly ripped off. Doctors had to amputate.
“I was teasing my brother, ‘You can’t jump this high,’ ” Green said. “I went up and I yanked my finger off. It was still intact but they couldn’t save it during surgery.”
The trauma wasn’t just physical. Green said he became insecure and belligerent.
“The girls didn’t want me any more and the boys were mean,” he said. “I was embarrassed about my hand and I was sad. It was like I lost a family member.
“I got into a lot of fights. I went into a shell. I had been outgoing, easygoing, laughed a lot. But an injury like that as a kid — it does something to you.”
Green wore a large bandage during the 18-month healing process that required a second surgery. He had difficulty writing and his mother had to help him with homework.
“The teachers told me I wouldn’t amount to anything because I was a bad kid,” he said. “But I knew I could still hoop. I kept believing I could be in the NBA. I didn’t think I was going to school to be a doctor — no offense, but that wasn’t me. When basketball is all you got, you work hard at it.”
Green, a late bloomer, was able to adapt his ball-handling and shooting skills.
“At first I had to get a feel for the ball again, and when I grab a ball now I still have more feeling for it with my left hand,” he said. “But I shoot with my thumb, index and middle finger.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my finger, but I don’t really miss it.”
Green, 29, was the 18th pick overall by Boston in the 2005 NBA Draft. He chose to enter the league straight out of Houston’s Gulf Shores Academy. He has since spent seasons with six other NBA teams, two in Russia, one in China and one with the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the D League.
I got into a lot of fights. I went into a shell. I had been outgoing, easygoing, laughed a lot. But an injury like that as a kid — it does something to you.
Miami Heat guard
Green, a 6-8 small forward, won the NBA’s Slam Dunk contest in 2007 and was runner-up in 2008 when he showed off “The Birthday Cake” dunk, in which he blew out a candle on a cupcake set on the back of the rim. He also did an alley-oop two-handed windmill and a between-the-legs, two-handed slam performed in his bare feet.
Green had a comeback year with Phoenix in 2014 when he finished fourth for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, behind teammate Goran Dragic. Last season he was the Suns’ leading scorer. He decided to join the Heat (and rejoin Dragic) this summer for minimum salary after a conversation with coach Erik Spoelstra. He wants to see his peripatetic career culminate in something meaningful in Miami.
“I could have gone a few places but I want to be part of the championship aspirations here,” Green said. “Energy is what I’m going to bring — on both ends of the floor. Scoring is easy for me. But to say I’m weak on defense is a little unfair considering the past few years my defense has been better. This year I’m putting my hard hat on and focusing on defense. I want to cause some havoc.”
A high-volume 42.5 percent shooter (36.8 percent on three-pointers), Green’s role for now is as part of a second unit that’s already being touted as dangerous. In two preseason games he has demonstrated his readiness to put up shots and score in bunches. He’ll relieve Dwyane Wade and help solve the Heat’s depth problem from last season.
“I love his commitment to the work,” Spoelstra said. “He’s willing to sacrifice some individual scoring to play for something different, something bigger and that says a lot about him.”
Green said he is not only more “dedicated to his craft” but more willing to share the story of his disability and how he overcame it.
“Used to be when I was asked about it I would walk away because I just wasn’t comfortable talking about it,” he said. “Now I realize if I can touch one kid, my story has done its job.”