Father and son enjoy the ride
DETROIT -- It's all gone. The bulk of his oldest son's college career, his second son's senior year in high school, a portion of elementary and middle school for his third boy, the first three years of his youngest son's life. He missed birthdays and basketball games, holidays and family dinners.
Nothing will bring them back. Photographs and newspaper clippings offer a retelling and a keepsake championship ring is a nice trinket, but it's not the same. He wasn't there.
Jailed for 18 months for a crime he says he did not commit, Danny Green Sr. will always have a hole in his life.
He's not angry about it -- not any more at least.
"How long can you stay angry? You can't make up for lost time," he said. "All you can do is enjoy the moments."
The moments are coming in waves now. Green Sr. hopes they will end in the one shining version Monday night.
His son and namesake, Danny Green, is 40 minutes from a coronation most of the North Carolina faithful believed was predestined this season, and a championship Green Sr. worried he might not see.
Once his son's coach, Green Sr. missed most of Danny's college career. The father was arrested at the end of his son's freshman year, jailed for his sophomore season and not allowed out of New York during his junior year.
Recently cleared by his parole officer to travel outside the New York state boundaries for his son's games this season, he has giddily ridden the Tar Heel Express from the opening tip of the tournament.
He was in Greensboro, N.C., for North Carolina's first- and second-round games; he was in Memphis, Tenn., when the Heels took the South Regional title; and now he is here in Detroit, soaking in every taste of the Final Four.
On Saturday night, out of a sea of 72,456 faces and amid the swirl of a Final Four game, Danny needed only an instant to find his father's face.
"I think with your kids there's almost just a sense that they're looking at you," Green Sr. said. "I know with Danny I can tell what he's feeling just by looking at him."
For the better part of Danny's life, Green Sr. was father, mother, taxicab driver, cook, master organizer, coach and disciplinarian. Danny's mother left the family when he was 10, leaving Green Sr. in charge of everything. His cooking skills were good enough to get by and he was strict enough as a disciplinarian to raise well-mannered, respectful boys.
He set up their sports schedules, schlepping Danny to practices and AAU games. He helped with the homework, and always made the boys work on their games (20-year-old Rashad Green plays at San Francisco University, 12-year-old Devonte Green plays for the New York Gauchos, an AAU program, and 4-year-old Dante Green, well, he's just a handful right now).
"He taught me everything I know," Danny said of his father. "He's the first person to put a ball in my hands."
Danny realized a father-son dream when he earned a scholarship to North Carolina.
The dream quickly became a nightmare.
In March 2006, Green Sr. was sitting in his house watching the McDonald's All-American game on television when he heard the noise: a loud, hard thump.
Figuring someone in his complex had fallen down the steps, he got up to go help. He turned to find his door busted in, cops standing there ready to arrest him.
Long Island's Suffolk County district attorney Tom Spota and police commissioner Richard Dormer said he was part of an international drug ring they had busted, landing them more than 400 pounds of cocaine and $40 million.
In all, 15 people were arrested. Until he got to prison, Green Sr., an assistant high school girls basketball coach and physical ed teacher with a master's degree, said he had met only one of the others arrested -- a corrections officer.
But the district attorney said Green Sr. had been identified through wiretaps used in their investigation.
"Have you ever gone to sleep and had a dream and feel like you couldn't wake up? That's what this was like," Green Sr. said. "I'd wake up and think, 'This can't be happening,' and I'd look around, see where I was."
The night of his father's arrest, Danny got a call from his uncle. He knew little other than the fact that Green Sr. had been taken to jail.
A stunned Danny remembers he didn't sleep at all that night.
"The worst part about it, we all found out about it on the news," UNC teammate Marcus Ginyard said. "He didn't know much, but he didn't even have a chance to tell us anything."
Convinced this was little more than a case of mistaken identity, Green Sr. told his family not to worry, that he'd be home soon. He believed it to an extent, but more important, he knew his sons needed to believe it.
"We're thinking it's a couple of weeks," Danny said. "And then a couple of weeks turn into a couple of months and a couple of months turn into almost two years."
A grand jury ultimately indicted him on a conspiracy charge, but Green Sr. still couldn't come up with the $4.5 million bail, so for 18 months he sat in jail and waited. Finally, in October 2007, they offered him a plea: one to three years. He accepted.
For 18 months he sat in jail, passing the time playing checkers, chess and cards or reading books. He talked to his boys on the phone. He didn't see them play basketball or see them off to school. The little ones were home with their grandmother and when Danny, his oldest son, visited him, he sobbed like a child.
If he didn't plead guilty to a conspiracy charge, Green Sr. said he faced the possibility of eight to 25 years behind bars. If he accepted it, with time served, he'd be home almost immediately.
"How do I describe it?" he said. "I was away from my kids. I was helpless. You know when your kids fall down or get hurt and you can't do anything? That's how I felt. I just wanted to be home. I wanted to be done with my case and have it over with."
Green Sr. was released on Jan. 28, 2008, but because of parole restrictions, he still couldn't see Danny play.
He missed what most would term a roller coaster career.
A McDonald's All-American as a high school senior, Danny, feeling the weight of his father's situation and trying to adjust to coming off the bench, struggled to find his footing during his first two seasons at North Carolina, averaging 7.5 and 5.2 points per game, respectively.
Slowly emerging as a powerful sixth man last season, Green tested the draft waters but elected to come back.
Pushed into the starting lineup after Marcus Ginyard elected for a medical redshirt, Green is averaging a career-best 13.3 points as well as 4.7 rebounds and is the only Tar Heel to have more than 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists, 100 blocks and 100 steals in a career.
He also earned a spot on the South regional team, after lighting up Gonzaga and Oklahoma to the tune of 15.5 points, 4 assists, 1.5 blocks and 2.5 steals per game.
The fact that his dad was watching certainly could have something to do with it.
"I didn't think I'd be able to see him with so many people in the stands," Danny said of Saturday's game. "But for some reason, he always stands out."
Green Sr. will be there for all the moments from now on.
In May, he'll be there when Danny graduates with his degree in communications.
In June, he'll be there should Danny hear his name called for the NBA draft.
But first there is business at hand, one last moment on a college basketball court.
A shining moment, perhaps.
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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