Danny Green looks as calm with a boa constrictor wrapped around his body as he does when he’s setting up to shoot a corner three.
The Toronto Raptors' new shooting guard is spending his Sunday afternoon inside a reptile zoo in the suburbs of his new city with kids from the Boys and Girls Club. He’s seated next to a zookeeper as a large, heavy-bodied snake slithers through their hands and coils around the two men’s arms while a pile of kids crowd around at their feet watching in fascination.
While many people would shudder and back away at the sight of these long, leathery reptiles, this zoo is very much in Green’s wheelhouse. The 31-year-old NBA player is a bit of a reptile expert himself and keeps snakes of his own at home.
Green bought his first pet snake a decade ago as a college junior playing for the Tar Heels at the University of North Carolina. That Colombian red-tailed boa he calls Jade was about a foot long when he first got her at a Chapel Hill pet store. Over 10 years, the brown-and-black patterned snake has grown to some eight feet in length, and moved with him to Cleveland, San Antonio and now Toronto.
“She was so small at first; she’d just wrap herself around my hand. She’s one of the friendliest breeds of snakes in the world, and that’s why I got her,” Green says. “Most of my teammates over the years have not liked snakes and don’t want to see her. Most are like, ‘Where is it? I’m not coming in your house. Is it locked up? Is it gonna eat me?’ ”
Getting Jade to Toronto from San Antonio was no easy feat after the Spurs traded Green this summer along with Kawhi Leonard. He had to have a special shipping company transport the snake by air on two connecting flights to Buffalo, then she was driven across the border to Toronto.
The non-venomous snake lives in a large glass enclosure at the house Green rents in Toronto. She’s got a heat lamp for warmth. When it’s hot outside, Green likes to give her some time out in the sun.
“The relationship with a snake is not like what we have with dogs, like how we can sort of cuddle a dog,” Green says. “But I do hold the snake a lot, especially when she was younger, because it’s good to handle them as much as possible early on so they get used to humans. She’s really chill.”
Green has two dogs as well – Gizmo and Nuke – who are both pomskies, a mix of Siberian husky and Pomeranian. He recently got a second Colombian boa, too, a baby male. That replaces an aggressive white male albino boa named Lightning he had for a few years. Green says that snake used to bite too much, but he had a friend who knew how to care for it, so he gave him away.
The outgoing new Raptor spends this Sunday afternoon at a huge facility in Vaughan called Reptilia with a group of kids who spill out of a school bus. The 6-foot-6 player, who hit his 1,000th career three-pointer a day earlier, poses for plenty of photos as they stroll past windows to study the crocodiles and tortoises, rattlesnakes, cobras, lizards, frogs and tarantulas. He may be a newcomer to Toronto, but even zoo guests outside the group are stopping the guard to ask for selfies and gab a little about this new-look team with hopes of reaching the NBA final.
The kids bounce around, squealing and wide-eyed, as the group stops to watch a zookeeper feed the venomous breeds of snakes behind heavy protected glass. She scoops up a dead mouse with a hook and dangles it in front of the snake, who snaps at it from his tank, expands its small mouth and swallows up the mouse ever so slowly.
Green knows this routine very well. At home, he feeds his new baby snake a small dead fuzzy mouse about once a week – one he thaws from frozen, and his snakes are laid-back so he doesn’t need a feeding hook. As snakes get older, they eat less. Jade eats larger rodents now – often live – and eats just once every month or two.
The native of North Babylon, N.Y., got his curiosity for animals from his family. Growing up, he loved to visit his uncle, who kept large snakes. His grandmother’s house was also full of new and interesting creatures, from dogs to cats and all kinds of fish and birds.
He saw that same curiosity in the children of his Spurs teammate Manu Ginobili in San Antonio. Ginobili’s three sons liked to visit Green’s snakes, especially to watch them gobble up rodents.
Among Green’s Toronto teammates, only Serge Ibaka has met Jade. When asked to come and film an episode of Ibaka’s new cooking show How Hungry Are You?, Green showed up with his big Colombian boa.
“He was surprised. Let’s say he’s not a fan of snakes,” Green says. “He was like, ‘You brought what here? To my house man?’ It was fun. I can’t tell you more than that. You’ll have to watch the episode.”
Together, Green and the kids feed lizards and pet fuzzy spiders and touch the beady scales of countless snakes.
The gregarious player, who just completed the NBA Players Association summer broadcast program at Syracuse University, quizzes the kids with Raptors trivia. The youngsters take wild and funny guesses to his questions about Kyle Lowry’s hometown, Jonas Valanciunas’s country of origin and what jersey number is worn by CJ Miles.
But the kids know one thing for certain: This new Raptor is a real animal lover.