Jeff Green is trying to come back from a heart ailment as a stronger player and an even stronger person.
Sometimes it's the little things in life that are taken for granted. Things like having a decent meal to eat, clean water and clean air to breathe are oftentimes unappreciated. For Jeff Green, the past year has been full of those little things.
The forward for the Boston Celtics spent these same summer months last year preparing and waiting with hopes that the NBA would solve its lockout issues and begin the season.
He had to wait a while. The lockout was not resolved until late November. Training camp opened on December 9, and Green happily entered the Celtics' practice facility for the things veteran players grow accustomed to -- physicals, meetings and media obligations.
"I just was ready to get the season started. There was a lot of built up frustration about the season not starting on time and wanting to play."
It was all a routine, or at least it had always been a routine. Green took his physical and was ready to get to work, but team doctors noticed something alarming. Something was wrong with Jeff's heart, and it caused a great deal of concern to the Celtics' medical staff. Team doctors detected an aortic aneurysm and shut Green down for the entire season.
"I didn't think anything was going to happen. I thought it was going to be over in a matter of ten minutes and then I'd be getting ready for practice," Green said.
"I thought everything was going to be fine. I never had any symptoms of shortness of breath or fatigue. Boston has some of the best doctors in the heart region. They see things fast and first."
The hours that followed Jeff's diagnosis were arguably the toughest. As with any major setback, a wide variety of emotions flowed through his body as he began to deal with the weighty reality that his season was over before it had even started.
"The first couple hours were just full of disappointment and feeling like I had let people down. With the lockout ending and finally being ready to play, I just felt like I let a lot of people down," said Green as he dwelled on the immediate moments after hearing the news from team doctors.
Basketball was done. Green was out for an entire year, and he had to prepare for a year of rehabilitation and recovery in order to return to the court in 2012. He had surgery in January, and the weeks and months that followed would be harder than receiving the news of his ailment.
"The surgery itself was probably the hardest thing I've ever been through in my life. I had to start from, basically, double scratch. Walking was an issue -- just being able to have the stamina was a problem. Everything just kind of shuts down. The nervous system breaks down, and it's kinda like a jump-start. You have to get it going, and it was just difficult.
"You take for granted all of the little things -- whether it's just an easy crunch or ab exercise, or moving to the left or moving to the right. I couldn't lay on my stomach for the first two-and-a-half months. I couldn't lay on my side. The first couple of weeks I couldn't drive. I couldn't do a lot of things, but it helps you appreciate the little things."
When Green was finally able to return to his feet, function and continue with his recovery, he was able to accomplish something he would not have been able to do had he been playing basketball. He graduated from Georgetown University.
Five years prior to walking across the stage and receiving his diploma, Green walked across the stage in New York City as a lottery pick in the NBA Draft. He hadn't finished school, and his closest friends always motivated and urged him to return to Georgetown and finish what he started. On May 9, 2012, he did.
"I went to school during the entire lockout, and I only had two classes left when the lockout ended," he said. "It meant a lot. That's something I've been doing for the past four years. To finally be done and have a Georgetown degree was big time. I had committed myself to doing it. Three of my best friends graduated a year after I left. In those pictures that you always have with your friends, I would always stand out because I didn't have a cap and gown on. That was something that really motivated me and something I'm really happy I could finally accomplish."
As Jeff was pursuing his degree, he was also still fighting to recover. While not officially on the Celtics roster, he remained close with his former teammates and spent a lot of time around the Boston locker room. Head coach Doc Rivers welcomed Green into the locker room and, for some games at least, onto the bench. He was seen as an inspiration for his teammates, but the relationship between Boston and Green was not merely a one-way street.
"It was awesome the support that those guys gave me. KG, Rondo, Keyon, Paul, Ray -- all of those guys. When I came out of my surgery, a lot of the doctors and people that were around me told me those guys were making sure I was okay and were just worried about me. When I got ready to leave, I happened to be in [Washington] D.C. when they were, so I got to go see them then. So, when I was healthy enough to move on my own and go to games, it was a no-brainer for me to go support them," Green said.
The motivation Green provided was nothing short of noticeable as the wily, veteran Celtics team fought hard through the rigors of a shortened, 66-game season. The Celtics secured the four seed in the playoffs, and used a combination of experience, grit and determination to fight within one game of the NBA Finals. And all Jeff could do was watch.
"It was very hard. I stopped watching basketball, not just the Celtics, for a month and a half. It was frustrating to me that I couldn't be out there playing," said Green.
Eventually, Green continued watching. As the Celtics made the final push through the playoffs, and fought to bring Boston its 18th banner, Green began to find ways to help off the court. He studied the games. He used what he saw as a spectator to provide guidance for his Celtics peers. He was not on the roster, but in a small way, he was contributing to the successes of Boston.
As the season ended and he was cleared to resume basketball activities, Green embarked on a journey as a free agent. He spent an entire season rehabbing, recovering and working to get back onto the court, and he knew no other choice but to commit to sign with the team that had been there with him through it all. So he did.
Now, as a member of the 2012-2013 Boston Celtics, he is looking to start fresh and make an even bigger impact than he did in his first stint in Boston. The 25-year-old has a chance to provide fresh, youthful legs to a Boston team that has been widely criticized for being the league's perennial "over-the-hill" squad.
Green can play multiple positions, but he projects best into the Celtics rotation as a backup for Paul Pierce.
"I'm a natural three, but sometimes you have to use those advantages when you have players like myself. I tell everybody that I really don't care where I play. I played the five in college. I played the point guard in college. It really doesn't matter to me. I just want to use the advantages we have and try to make good things happen."
With only a few months remaining until the beginning of the season, Green seems to like what the Boston Celtics' front office has done to fill out the roster.
"I love it. It's exactly what we needed. Size in the interior to help Kevin out. He got really fatigued towards the end of the season, so with the size of Jared [Sullinger] coming, and signing Brandon [Bass] back, Fab and then myself, it helps. And then you bring in Courtney Lee, with his quickness and ability to score the ball, and then The JET [Jason Terry] -- everybody knows what he can do. It's a great thing that Danny was able to put together a team like that so quickly, so I'm looking forward to it."
Boston is preparing for battle, for a fight to bring Banner 18 back to Boston -- a feat Green thinks this year's team is more than capable of doing. As for himself, Green is continuing to fight hard to return to the Celtics better than he was when he left.
"I know there's always going to be negativity. Somebody is always going to find something negative to say. I'm going to just go out there and play, and let my playing do the talking. If we win, I don't care how I play or what I shoot. I'm more of a team player. It doesn't matter. My thing is to help my team in any possible way.
"We're trying to win a championship. That's the main goal and the thing we're trying to accomplish this year."
He's fought hard to get to this point. With a strong and healthy heart, and a renewed resolve, Jeff Green is ready to give back to the team that was there beside him during the toughest months of his life.