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Artie Green #21

green.artie.jpg

Nickname: “Grasshopper”
Position: Guard/Forward
Height: 6'1“
Weight: 180 lbs.
Born:
Hometown: Bronx, NY
High School:

Marquette Career

He transferred to Marquette from Saddleback Community College.

Green averaged 8.7 points per game during his junior year and 7.9 points per game as a senior.

While his career at Marquette never lived up to expectations, Green was already famous before he came to MU.

Nicknamed “The Grasshopper” because of his amazing leaping ability, Green was a New York City playground legend before he even entered high school.

Green was the lowest draft pick of any Marquette player ever selected by an NBA franchise, when the Bucks picked him in the tenth round of the 1981 draft (225th overall). After his tryout with the Bucks didn't work out, Green fell in with wrong crowd and began a long battle with cocaine addiction. He successfully beat that addiction in the early 1990s, and came back to MU to help coach young kids at basketball camps for both Kevin O'Neill and Mike Deane. Even then, he would still go back to New York for playground tournaments and was able to hang with college and NBA stars.


Artie Green Article from The Last Word a playground basketball site

GRASSHOPPER

by Marion Boykin

Well, it's High school basketball time. More specifically, it's a time to applaud those HS athletes that have excelled all the way to becoming All-Stars in the various schoolboy tournaments that include the PSAL, CHSAA, and Private schools around the NYC area. It is a time for young boys and girls to be recognized for their leaping ability and ball handling, for their scoring and overall team play. It is also a time to reinforce the need for a solid education, along with a further realization that, all that glitters is not gold. It's hard for stars not to be in their eyes, as many of them will go on to top colleges supported totally by athletic scholarships. In cases like this, it's real hard not to think that's it's all about you, “that you're the man.”

Recently, I've come to know the mother of one of today's top schoolboy b-ball players. Ms. Sandy Cranford is the mother of Cardozo High School hoop- star, Charles Cranford. He is a 6'5” pure shooter out of Queens. With a rep known throughout the City, supported by guns that blaze a 25 pt. scoring average, there's no doubt that he is the man. His mom beams proudly as she talks about how he can shoot the lights out of the basket. But putting the gleam of the NBA aside for a moment, she is more concerned about his schooling, whether or not he can deal with all the pressure that comes along with a kid caught up in the pre-big time of “being the man.”

I told her that I once shot the jumper daily, and stole dimes from the broken phones in the streets of Harlem. I had seen it all from the Biddy leagues to the pros. And though I speak primarily about the Boxing ring, I'd seen dreams go up in smoke like airballs (shot too hard) that go over the top of the backboard. But I'd also seen success and jumpers that made it all the way to the NBA. Instead of boring her with a story she didn't have time to listen to, I gave her one I'd written for her and her son to read. It is the story of a Grasshopper. A real-life example that illustrated how the hoop could be hope, by showing how the surest lay-up, through bad aim, could be missed.

Grasshopper, Grasshopper jump so high. Grasshopper, Grasshopper one day you'll fly. Grasshopper, Grasshopper one day when? Grasshopper, please jump high again.

Listen real closely and you'll begin to hear the beat. A repeatingly sharp thud, somewhat erratic at times, but mostly metered. A kind of heart beat in the Harlem community, where the pulse is checked everyday. The rhythm of the bounce can be heard from the early morning until after dark in any park close enough to get to. Here, the hoop is hope in a play where players and fans participate for the sake of one another. Heroes are made and legends appear, creating happiness and tragedies. The ball is powerful, filled with dreams where every point scored jerks a reflex that can be either a debilitating cramp or a surge toward victory, but often times defeat.

I was a pretty decent player in my day, at least I thought so. My fakes and finger-crunching passes (made off my patented, Earl “The Pearl” spins), got me a bit of run in Bill Robinson Park, across from the famed Dunbar Apartments. But there were many levels to climb in playing this game, and I didn't climb very far. My thoughts about my own game wasn't shared by many, and so my path was cut early toward the seats. But while there, deep in the pine, I watched the game with the precision of a money jumpshot shooter. I saw them all, pros and amateurs, many of them right before my very eyes, as they magically went from nowhere to somewhere, and most times back again.

Tournaments abounded here for all ages, but were glorious only to those with the power. You had to be good to be regarded as one of the best, and you had to be bad to be the best. High School ball, and the Harlem Pro Rucker Basketball Tournament showcased and panned them all, from the streets to the pros. The best didn't always go all the way, and the worst didn't always get left behind. Some made it to the top, like “Tiny” Nate Archibald, “Fly” Williams, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bernard King. Some almost made it, like Earl “The Goat” Manigault, Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond and “Pee Wee” Kirkland. They were all great players, some better than others, connected by the rhythm of the city game, and the simple bouncing of a ball. It was their microphone and they spoke loudly, and we cheered them. The closest things to super heroes that we knew.

These guys were bigger than life in their varied successes and failures. Some went to the top of the game from the streets, and some self-destructed at the bottom of the game in the streets. The successes and failures of street legends like Manigault and Hammond, are classics. Myths of the real and unreal, heard and recanted by every schoolboy hoping to flip the dream someday into a way out. I saw a last shot missed at the buzzer, by a legend that was created and destroyed. I saw this up close and personal in a particular view of the court, from the cheapest seats around.

Bill Robinson (or Bill Rob, as we called it) was a “satellite” park tucked between a corner gas station and the end of some old tenement buildings. Fenced in, it always seemed a bit out of place to me, with its pair of sliding boards and a handball court. The full court made up the middle of this odd trio. We never had any use for the handball court, except to write on, and the tall sliding boards in the back served only as bleachers for scrubs and fans during some of the more interesting runs. Bill Rob was quite a cage, one that we flocked to willingly and no one except losers tried ever to escape.

The older guys always had the court first, which meant whenever they got there it was theirs. We were always relegated to the half court and then shortly (at the end of a choose-up) to the off-court. I wasn't thrilled about this, and I did show some anger in my removal, but I didn't mind much as it was fun to watch guys who could really play the game. Guys that never brought a ball, but the ball was theirs. Finesse and organization was in every move and the pretty release on that jumper by hood-star, Butch Lee off the dribble, would make you say “Ahhh”, just like it was a steak, or the glimpse of a pretty girl's panties. Did you ever see a ball just hang there in mid-air, with no place else to go, but straight through the rim, everytime? The ultimate confirmation, the “swish” was added verbally in unison by us, as we never had nets on the baskets to give the appropriate reward. Butch and a few others had caught the sound of the drum beat early when it came to hoops. They ventured out of the neighborhood successfully on teams and into tournaments. Butch made it all the way to the NBA and a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. Before that, he was All-City right here in NY and All-Everything, everywhere else. He went on and starred in the college ranks and was the NCAA Player of the Year for Marquette University. Not only could Butch hit the jumper, but he could also hit the books, and they both took him far. It began with the hard street and school tournaments especially the legendary Harlem Rucker. They, along with a strong family, helped to hone Butch well. But it was Bill Rob that started the ball bouncing.

Butch was real good but he wasn't the best there. Amidst his many successes on the court, there was another story evolving just as fast, maybe faster. Like I said earlier, we would all be sent to the sidelines to watch, all except Li'l Artie Green. He was a medium build kid of a dusty dark complexion, with nappy hair that he attempted to keep neat at all times. He was easy to laugh and quite playful around others. His higher pitched voice made you think that he must've been screaming all the time. His mom always kept him well dressed, as he was the baby and the only boy in his family. I never saw his father, and I don't think he saw him much either. Through the graffiti, the park sign always read: NO smoking and spitting. It might as well had said “NO FATHERS” either, as no one ever brought one to the park, and none ever came.

There was something special about Artie Green. I could never figure out how at such an early age, he could play like the older dudes (and they knew it, too). They would regularly pick him on their squads when the game was light or they needed a fifth man for a full. He was small, but he could somehow hold his own, as they chased him up and down the court trying to rattle him and make him cough up the ball. He did sometimes, but most times he shook them silly, with grace beyond his years. His handle, even then, was magical as he seemed to just have an invisible string on the ball, making it respond like a yo-yo at the slightest jerk. Artie was the big guys' favorite little guy and they took him everywhere, and after a while, they began to let him play.

Artie's confidence grew immensely from the praise, and he wasn't even 13 years old yet. By the time he was about 14, he had won more trophies than most guys would ever win in a lifetime. I remember once that he was actually throwing some of the smaller ones out of the backyard window for fun. I guess he had so many of them, it didn't matter as his house already looked like a gold mine. He had a superior game to all the kids his age, and even years older. He was feared as a secret weapon by other teams, capable of winning a game all by himself. His reputation grew with every tournament and he played regularly as a mid-teen with Butch and the unlimited-age squads.

After a while, everybody was coming to the games just to see Artie Green play. You knew something remarkable would happen when this guy touched the ball, which happened almost immediately. All the players knew he was the man. The more gifted players resented his popularity, and tried at times to run the show. But quickly, the chant from the crowd was an instruction, more specifically a plea to give Artie the ball. He would accept the pill, trapped deep in the corner by three men. But his confident deception helped him to dance his way through the defense, with twists and turns that made the ball disappear at times, reappearing only at the bottom of the net. Cheers could be heard for blocks, as they hammered out applause for the move, always with Artie smoothly backpedaling to the other end of the court.

All the applause and praise had done something besides make Artie great, it had also dulled his sense of reality and made life itself a hop from one game to another. His hanging out with the older dudes made him want to be like them and do the things they did. They were really suppose to be looking out for him, but they were actually helping to destroy a talent in the hood that hasn't been seen since. Artie had now matured into the high school ranks, and more importantly, developed a jumping ability that now made him a big man on the floor at the guard position, dangerous at all times. His jumping helped to make him legendary and this metamorphosis made him unreal. If you took your eyes off him for a second, he'd throw it in your face. And he didn't do it thunderously, he did it smooth as he sliced his way to the basket, off that magical dribble, rising high into his float to the hoop. Above everyone on the floor, up there where there's no one to fear, he'd deliver the ball down the net with a “flush.” He didn't have to run to do this either. A step was all he needed, as he left you standing there on earth, rising high above the rim for a quick dunk back down into your face. He did this all over the court, with rebounds and high steals, tip-offs and blocked shots. Pretty soon, they started calling him “Grasshopper.” Damn, he could jump. And without much effort at all, he had become one of the top schoolboy prospects in the country. Even more important, there in the hood he was now a god. No one could stop him, and after a while, no one tried.

The confidence had changed to arrogance somewhere along the way, as Artie would skip practices and show up late for games. Once, he even walked out in the middle of a game because the coach didn't start him, another time because he was pulled out for a rest. Even the officials felt his wrath, as he took the entire crowd with him one time after fouling quickly out of a game down on Lenox Avenue in Harlem. It was remarkable to see the five fouls come so quickly against Artie. The sixth one sent him angrily to the bench, but only to get his stuff. After some choice words for the ref. and a total disregard for the coach, Artie simply left, taking nearly the entire park of hundreds of fans cheeringly with him. Even the remaining players and officials stopped the game in total awe of the great exodus.

Despite the bratty antics, Artie continued to excel, winning MVPs and Most Outstanding awards where ever he played. I remember truly believing that even though NY Knick, Walt “Clyde” Frazier was a proven professional in the NBA, I still thought he would catch hell trying to guard Artie Green. In fact, Artie had played against many of the pros and college stars and left them all with the same feeling about his prowess, that the kid was a natural and guaranteed to someday go pro. His game was spectacular, but his discipline had become non-existent. Through all the many levels, Artie had come through toward the earning of his respect, the real game for him was just beginning.

Purely on say-so from Butch Lee himself, Artie was recruited by Marquette University. Butch had told his coach of Artie, saying “If you think I'm bad, wait to you see this kid - he's unbelievable!” Though other colleges around the country wanted Artie Green, some even better suited toward his open style of play like UNLV, he chose Marquette. Unlike Butch Lee, a really bright guy both in the books and on the court, Artie's grades did not match the strength of his game. He was pure basketball, and even that ability was nurtured incorrectly. He was so good, so early, that no one ever thought to teach him anything. You don't practice a jumpshot if you never have to use one. His ability to penetrate defenses off the dribble helped him to develop a false sense of security. He scored absolutely at will and was allowed to not to play the team game at times. With freelancing as a forte, most coaches backed away from harnessing his athleticism. He was so good (and everybody told him he was so good, for so long) that he had no real need to practice, and many times he didn't. This was the case as far back as the biddy leagues (ages 12 and under). If you played the game for the sake of the team, making Artie conform- you lost most times. If you let Artie be the team- you won all the time. It wasn't suppose to work that way, but it did. Most coaches only saw the gold gleam of trophies that Artie would bring. Not realizing that, as good as he was, he never really learned to play the game. Instead, he was caught in a game that would eventually play him.

By the time he got to Marquette, life was gaining on him fast. School work was a problem (it had always been), not to mention that the recruiting head-coach had retired. The new coach was not impressed with Artie's razzle dazzle reputation, and he focused on another star player to lead his team named, Sam Worthen. Sam was a bonafide 6'5 point guard of the highest order, a real team player personified. Through a lack of proper developing court education and mis-use as a young player, Artie did not effectively learn to play the point. He was erratic and given to poor leadership. His abilities were still all there, but they just weren't organized, or necessary. No one needed a 6' jumping jack, with a shaky jumper and an unstable presence on the floor. So Artie was benched hard, sometimes embarrassingly on national TV. The years at Marquette killed his confidence and his chances, and you could see it in his play in the tournaments when he returned home every summer. Suddenly, there were other players on the court besides “Mean” Artie Green. Players that really weren't as good but were made better by Artie being brought down some pegs. He could still wow the crowds at times, but he couldn't hold their attention captive anymore.

His remaining time at school was disastrous, almost non-existent. At NBA draft time, the Milwaukee Bucks did Marquette a hometown favor and drafted Green in the final round of picks, the absolute last man chosen out of hundreds of players. Actually, even this was undeserved, as Green had no real resume to make the pros, he had (as always) only the still raw abilities. I heard he did well at the try-outs but in the end he was cut. It wasn't the worst thing in the world that could happen (at least it shouldn't have been), as it had happened to many others from the neighborhood trying to make the pros. But they all accepted it better and went on with their lives, because for them it was always just an obscure chance. For Artie Green though, it was a sure thing that didn't show. The remaining quarters of his life had finally caught up with him, and the blur of his youth would now slow him into another reality, where he didn't have the ball and for once no one would give it to him.

Artie never graduated from Marquette, and remained in Milwaukee. Amidst the confusion and disappointment of it all, he escalated his acquaintance with drugs (a long time casual association developed by the homeboys looking out for him back on the block). He eventually wound up in trouble with himself and the law, ending up in prison. Looking back on it all, he was probably more prepared to fail than to succeed. Every summer visit home was greeted by supposed well-wishing homeys, that immediately got him as high and misdirected as an air-ball. He played in the tournaments under many of the negative influences of his environment. Drug dealers, playing out their NBA fantasies, would recruit him and others for their super teams. They gave of their talents in exchange for unlimited hits on the pipe, hard cash and the adulation of the crowds.

Believe it or not, many of his friendly suppliers wished him well. They just wanted to in some way be a part of his successes, a part of the “Artie Green euphoria.” Everybody was trying to be accepted by somebody, and Artie was a fast way to be accepted by all. So, if you couldn't dunk the ball, at least be there to pass it. This type of caring and sharing helped to destroy him. When he didn't make the pros, it broke a lot of people's hearts. When last I saw him, some years ago, he seemed so out of place without the cheering crowds, the girls and the entourage. Nobody really even knew who he was or cared, and he looked as though he was trying to forget who he was, himself. It broke my heart again to finally realize that we all in one way or another, had really broken his heart.

They have long since remodeled Bill Robinson Park into a real basketball playground, with swings, a jungle gym and even a giant painting where the handball court use to be of the park's namesake, the great tap dancer, Bill “Bo jangles” Robinson. Too many years later, I found out who Robinson was. That he lived just across the street in the famed Dunbar Apartments, and worked out regularly in the little “vest-pocket” park that eventually was named in his memory. Be that as it may, I doubt that at the time when we were running full courts there as kids, that anybody knew why the park was called Bill Rob. Yeah, there was a lot of dancing going on there alright, slick moves worthy of all the prestige of the mural's grand image of Robinson in high-hat, tie and tails. But I'm sure no one then knew what he looked like or what he did. All we knew is that we played ball there- hard. And at one time, just for a moment, it was proudly renamed, “Grasshopper Gardens,” for what Artie Green looked like and for what he did.

Grasshopper, Grasshopper jump so high. Grasshopper, Grasshopper one day you'll fly. Grasshopper, Grasshopper one day when? Grasshopper, please jump high again.

I caught up with Ms. Cranford recently, and she told me that she and her son thoroughly enjoyed the story. Her son, Charles read it again and again, and could really identify with what it was all about. Preparing now to go on to prep-school, perhaps in the story he saw himself, deep within the possibilities and finalities of good choices and bad ones. His mom said his thoughts about school became deeper as his focus was widened by the full color exposure of the truth. If so, the aim on his shot and all those youngsters wanting to play this game, will continue to sharpen, along with their minds. I'm sure his mom will continue smiling as she watches all his good lay-ups and jumpers turn slowly into not just a good basketball player, someday perhaps in the NBA, but more importantly a good man in the even bigger game of life.


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