It’s rare that you see much emotion out of Jeff Green. Not too high, not too low.
But after the Celtics’ 87-79 win over the Suns Wednesday night, Green couldn’t quite help it.
Exactly one year to the day – Jan. 9, 2012 – Green walked into the Cleveland Clinic not knowing if he’d walk out.
He was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm in his heart prior to the start of last season, forcing the C’s to void his contract, and forcing him to miss the season and undergo surgery.
What happened after was months and months of rehab starting with the simple process of getting out of bed. It wasn’t whether or not Green would play basketball again, but whether or not he’d be able to do normal day-to-day things.
As we’re all aware by now though, Green has been able to play basketball again — and that was on display Wednesday night. He finished the night with 14 points – eight in the second quarter – including three highlight reel dunks. The energy he brought from the second unit was integral in Boston’s win.
It’s been a long and hard journey, but well worth it.
“It felt good. (long pause) I can’t put into words how I feel,” Green said fighting back tears. “I mean, it’s a wonderful day. I had a good game. I’m just glad to be here, man. I reflect a lot about what I’ve been through. It’s a blessing to be here, so I’m just happy.
“I don’t cry, but, it was [emotional]. A year ago I had heart surgery. When I think laying in the bed, when I woke up from it, to where I am now, I mean, it’s a big deal to me. I’m just, like I said, glad to be here, glad to be alive, glad to be playing basketball.”
Green signed a four-year, $36 million dollar deal with the Celtics prior to the start of the season. The deal raised (and still raises) a lot of eyebrows around the NBA, and Green hasn’t had the start that everybody was hoping for. That said, it’s easy to forget that coming off a major heart surgery like the one he had is enough to start anybody off slower than they want to.
It’s certainly not due to a lack of effort or will — or courage.
“The fact that he worked himself into the condition that he did; there had to be some kind of fear somewhere, because to work yourself into condition you have to use that (heart) muscle,” Doc Rivers said. “So it’s just really cool that he’s playing, and he’s playing well of us.”
And don’t think that Green’s story isn’t an inspiration to the rest of his teammates. Jason Terry wasn’t a teammate of Green’s last season, but knows all about the situation. To see Green contributing to the win the way he did tonight was special.
“We call him ‘Ironman’,” Terry said. “He’s the player of the night, he sparked us not only with those dunks, but his defense. He got three or four steals there in that same stretch. Got out on the break and did what he does best and that’s use his athleticism to make an impact in the game.
“It’s still amazing just to see him out there on the floor playing the way he is because at any moment he can get hit in the chest or anything, and it has to be tough for him.”
Going through the recovery process has only made Green a stronger person. He can look back on the ride and feel lots of emotions, but pride has got to be at the top.
“Anything in between from now until that first step is a wonderful journey for myself and an unbelievable process that I’ve been through,” Green said.
And you can bet that having felt the effects of it once already, he’ll do whatever it takes to avoid the feeling again.
“…I never want to be back at that point, the way I felt when I woke up. I never want the feeling of taking ten steps and being tired; I never want to feel that again. So, I’m going to push myself to the limits and just never be out of shape.”