How do you know when you have hit bottom? How about—after fizzling with four teams in the NBA and spending two seasons in isolated outposts in Russia—being told by a 14th-place Chinese team that your services are no longer required? In December former first-round pick Gerald Green was released by the Foshan Long Lions after the club got off to a 1--3 start. "It was the low point in my life," says Green. "I could understand being cut from the NBA, but a Chinese team?"
Years earlier that kind of failure might have broken him. The 18th pick in the 2005 draft, by Boston, Green entered the NBA big on talent but short on smarts. He made a name for himself by winning the '07 slam dunk contest but frustrated his coaches with erratic play. Says Celtics coach Doc Rivers, "He just hadn't been taught how to play basketball."
After failed stints in Boston, Minnesota, Houston and Dallas, Green, 26, was exiled to Siberia (almost). He signed with Russian club PBC Lokomotiv-Kuban in 2009 and BC Krasnye Krylia in '10, where he played road games in Arctic conditions. "That's a different kind of cold," he says. "And they don't see many black people out there. When I went to the mall, I'd be followed around like I was Michael Jackson."
The experience humbled Green and, more important, hardened him. After a stint in the NBADL, the Nets signed Green last month to a 10-day contract. He scored 10 points in his debut and two weeks later put up 26 points twice in five days. In 19 games with New Jersey, Green is averaging 11.5 points. And New Jersey coach Avery Johnson has praised Green's commitment to film study. On March 18 the Nets signed Green for the rest of the year and are hoping to bring him back next season. "I'm a lot smarter player," Green said. "I'm playing with my head and not just my athleticism and it's paying off."
ERICK W. RASCO (GREEN)