Gerald Given 'Green' Light to Promote Anti-Bullying

On Thursday night, Gerald Green scored a career-high 41 points in a win over the Thunder. But the forward is also finding ways to contribute in Phoenix while off of the court too.

In front of 200-plus students at Loma Linda Elementary, Gerald Green lifts up his hand. It’s not to waive hello (he had already done that), and it’s not to quiet down the children (he already had their full attention). The former NBA Slam Dunk Champion and current Suns sharpshooter was showing students what it was that made him different.

As a youngster looking to show off his hops, Green attempted to slam a ball through a hoop attached to a doorway. What was intended to be a display of athleticism, however, quickly turned into a gruesome, freak accident as Green – wearing his mother’s high school ring – had his ring finger ripped to the bone. Ever since that day, Green has lived with just four fingers on his right hand.

As Green tells his captivated audience, “They called me everything. I heard ‘alien hand’ and all kinds of names while growing up. I had a rough time with it because I remember feeling so much different and not wanting to go to school. Every kid should feel safe while they’re at school and they should feel they have the same opportunities as everybody else regardless of what they look like or what kind of shoes they have on.”

Following his story, Suns broadcaster Tom Leander opens things up for the audience to ask questions. The impact of Green’s story and its resignation is apparent. Not one student asks Green about his ability to soar to the basket or what it felt like to connect on a game-winning shot against the Timberwolves. Instead, a boy in a wheelchair asks Green what it was that eventually stopped the bullying.

“Being bullied was embarrassing, and I can still remember shying away from crowds and walking around with my hand in my pocket to avoid attention from my peers,” Green recalls. “But a key to getting over it was motivating myself to keep playing basketball. That was my outlet.”

Just after that question, a girl timidly asks what age it was when Green finally got beyond his shyness.

“Everybody is different and you need to be who you are,” Green explains. “It’s okay to be shy. I’m still shy to this day. I’m probably even more nervous sitting up here to answer these questions than you guys are asking them. But I think as you get older and as you start to become involved in more positive activities, you’ll get to know more people and start to notice a change.”

After a series of questions has been asked, it was clear that students on this day did not want to know more about Gerald Green the NBA player, but Gerald Green the guy who had overcome getting bullied. It would make perfect sense being that these children could relate more to feeling shy or bullied than they could relate to rattling a rim or sinking their former NBA team with an off-balanced shot.

“Having Gerald here to be able to tell his story of being a student once teased in school to becoming an NBA professional is amazing,” Executive Director of Playworks Arizona Chuck Warshaver said. “For him to share that story and let kids know that he too was once bullied really goes a long way.”

Loma Linda Elementary is one of 13 schools which have worked with Playworks - a nonprofit organization that provides full-time anti-bullying coaches to low-income schools in major urban areas. Teachers in Playworks schools have reported significant less bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess, and Playworks teachers rate the average feeling of safety amongst their students 20% higher than teachers in control schools.

“At Playworks, we place full-time coaches at schools to help teach kids how to work together, play together, resolve conflict, and create empathy,” Warshaver said. “After incorporating that into recess, we then look to bring that knowledge into the classroom. We want these kids to want to go to school and to stay in school so that they can ultimately graduate.”

One night before visiting the students at Loma Linda Elementary, Green pitched in 17 points and five rebounds in a win over Boston. It was yet another example of how much his abilities can influence the Suns in the win-loss column. But it was in finding the courage to take his hand out of his pocket one morning later that Green managed to do something more impressive – discover the ability to empower others.