By Marc D'Amico
August 22, 2012
BOSTON – Bad news is always made worse when it arrives in unexpected fashion. Jeff Green can tell you all about that.
Minutes before doctors relayed news to him on Dec. 9, 2011, that he was suffering from an aortic aneurism, Green was on his way to cashing in on a brand new contract with the Boston Celtics and helping the team chase its 18th World Championship.
Then his life changed in an instant.
Jeff Green joined his teammates on the bench for several games this past season while he recovered from heart surgery.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images
Surgery. Heart ailment. Life-threatening. Season-ending.
These are the terms that pounded into the faltering chest of a promising 25-year-old athlete. These are the terms that would make any unsuspecting human being ponder the worst of thoughts.
“So many things,” Green said after a deep sigh to Celtics.com’s Molly McGrath as he recalled the initial thoughts that went through his head after hearing the frightening news. “First, family. My life. Basketball came last, because being young, and at the league playing every day, I mean, you don’t want to hear those types of things that you have to stop your career, put it on pause and have heart surgery.”
No matter how much Green didn’t want to hear those statements, they were ringing true through his ears. Reality quickly set in: he was no longer a man playing basketball for a living; instead, he was a man fighting to continue living.
Luckily for Green, he wasn’t fighting alone. He had an entire organization in his corner.
“[The Celtics] searched high and low for the best doctor, for the best clinic to go to to have the procedure,” an emotional Green told Celtics.com. “(They helped with) everything that I needed to make this procedure easy for myself.”
If you know anything about the Celtics, you know that the organization operates like a family. Ubuntu. Doc Rivers preaches it every day. The sentiment did not waver as Green became a casualty on Boston’s 2011-12 roster. The Celtics didn’t forget about him and move on. They remained in Green’s corner every step of the way and did everything they could to lead him back to a healthy life.
After searching high and low, left and right, Boston’s medical staff came to the conclusion that the Cleveland Clinic was the location where Green should undergo surgery. On Jan. 9, 2012, exactly one month after news changed his life forever, Green faded into a deep sleep, his chest was opened up, and his heart was repaired.
Celtics fans around the world have seen his charming face since that emotional month came to an end. He visited the team on several occasions and even sat on the bench during Boston’s 115-111 overtime victory over the New York Knicks on March 4.
Green looked fine. He looked healthy. He looked happy. But no one on the outside understood what the young man was enduring each and every day of his life.
“It was like starting from scratch,” Green said of his daily rehabilitation. “Basically I felt like I had to learn how to walk again, run, breathe, everything. It was like being born as a baby but 25 years old, so it was tough. I had to re-learn different functions of my body… running, certain movements. I don’t wish that on anybody.”
Although Green wouldn’t wish a dangerous heart condition on anybody, he quickly learned to embrace that difficult chapter in his life. With the support of his friends and family, Green moved on from the thought of missing a season and instead thrived on the opportunity to broaden his life.
“Actually, it was a blessing in disguise,” Green says in hindsight. “I had the opportunity to finish my degree. I graduated, walked in May. I spent time with my family. So I used the time wisely.”
And as the time wore on, doctors began to loosen the reins on Green. He was eased back into physical activity, allowing him to slowly re-acclimate himself with the game he so dearly missed.
Less than nine months have passed since news changed his life. Less than eight months have passed since his heart was repaired. Yet today, Green has officially returned in the NBA after signing his newest contract with the Boston Celtics.
Unexpected bad news will always lead to trying times, but what one does with that time is what shapes the future of their life. With the help of the Celtics organization, Jeff Green took on his ailment with grace. Now, as he says, he’s prepared to show the world that he can still play basketball with grace, too.
“I feel like I have a lot to prove,” he said matter-of-factly. “I think, coming off of the surgery, a lot of people are going to doubt whether or not I’ll be the same player.
“I feel like I have a lot to prove.”