Brooklyn Nets: Jeff Green, deeper than basketball

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: Jeff Green #8 of the Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: Jeff Green #8 of the Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

How does the challenge of being an NBA “journey man” compare to someone who battled and overcame an unconceivable obstacle to continue his career?

That player is Jeff Green, the 34-year-old veteran who is a significant piece in the puzzle that makes up the Brooklyn Nets. Steve Nash dubbed him as a vocal leader and the “voice of reason” that helped reroute Brooklyn after a three-game losing streak in early February.

On a team that boasts three future first-ballot Hall of Famers, Green being a prominent voice may come as a shock to some. But, if you’re familiar with Green’s peregrination, you would understand why Brooklyn’s woes drastically pale in comparison to his past tribulations.

Coming off the 2011-12 NBA lockout in mid-December, a mandatory yet routine physical for the Boston Celtics would forever alter Jeff Green’s life. As he laid on the table with the doctors studiously-fixated on the screen, Green was about to receive an incomprehensible, unsettling ultimatum: undergo heart surgery or play Russian-roulette with your life by continuing to play with a potentially fatal heart condition.

Green was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm, which is described as a balloon-like bulge in the aorta, the large artery that carries blood from the heart throughout the body. If the aortic aneurysm dissects or ruptures, 50% of the time the outcome is fatal, so Green opted to have the surgery in early January.

The Celtics would send Green to the highly reputable and internationally known Dr. Lars Svensson, a cardiac surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.

Approximately around 5 a.m., on a cold 30-below Monday morning (Jan. 9, 2012) at the Cleveland Clinic, Green prepared for the biggest obstacle of his young 25-year life.

There’s no way to express enthusiasm about having open-heart surgery in light of the circumstances, but when Dr. Svensson opened up Green – a bad situation quickly turned worse. Svensson described Green’s aorta as being “paper-thin,” and that it could’ve “blown at any time.”

If that wasn’t traumatic enough, upon the completion of Green’s 5-hour surgery (one hour in which his heart was stopped), he was rushed back into a second surgery due to internal-bleeding — all unbeknownst to Green, who was heavily sedated and woke from surgery Tuesday morning.

Nothing can prepare you for the rapid descend of playing in the NBA to hitting rock bottom with a possible life-ending heart condition.

The fortitude it takes to balance the physical and mental (possibly spiritual) “highs and lows” regarding that magnitude of trauma can leave you drained and feeling defeated.

Some wonder, how this could happen to an incredibly healthy athlete, who, prior to the diagnoses, was doing two-a-day workouts for the past three-months.

It is called, “Marfan Syndrome,” a disorder that disproportionately affects people who are tall/thin and can provoke an aortic aneurysm. When asked the cause for Green’s heart condition, Dr. Svensson said, “These are super-athletes, so they put a lot of strain on their heart and they’re very tall.”

We find out truly how strong we are when we are faced with battles, and Green’s road to recovery would further test that theory. If the saying, “no pain, no gain” had any truth to it, Green was soon to find out.

After four days (post-surgery) of little movement and being bed-ridden, Green realized “moving forward,” was necessary but also presented an incredible challenge. No, literally, Green deemed the thoughtless “second-nature” task of lifting himself up and walking a few steps forward as the “hardest thing I ever had to do.”

For an all-world athlete who plays basketball at the highest level, you can never foresee or fathom basic, fundamental activities like breathing and walking resulting great exhaustion.

As Green began to gradually make way – physically and mentally rehabbing – there was only one thing he was apprehensive about: his disdain and repugnance for the nine-inch vertical, raw scar that ran mid-line from his sternum to the top his abdomen.

Green may have been feeling down from the emotional and physical rollercoaster of his hapless circumstances, but he was far from being out. Like a phoenix arising from the ashes, Green’s rehabilitation consistently improved and manifested into fortitude and vitality.

After overcoming the odds of enduring everything that came with heart complications and having to forgo the 2011-12 NBA season, Green would re-sign with the Boston Celtics on a four-year deal before the 2012-2013 campaign. It was official, Green was back, battle tested and iron-willed.

In an ironic twist, the same way Tony Stark used the “arc reactors” as a power source, Green now draws power and motivation from his scar. The scar is a constant reminder and symbolizes life and the storms Green has weathered.

His expedition as a journey man has made Brooklyn, New York, his most recent destination. In a destined twist-of-fate, Green has reunited with Kevin Durant, his teammate in Oklahoma City, who also dedicated his 2011-12 season to Green during his health battle.

Green’s season averages of 9.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game only give you a small glimpse of his impact and influence on the Nets. He’s also a vocal leader, veteran locker room presence, and a player that can be inserted into any lineup or situation and add immediate value.

Green has been a versatile defensive player who can guard any of the five positions, which has proven pivotal with the Nets implementing “small-ball, switch-everything” lineups. On the offensive side of the ball, Green is one of the Nets’ best finishers at the rim and is shooting a career-high 42% from behind the arc.

All the intangibles, experience, and leadership Green has brought to the Nets organization are not only needed, but highly revered. On the court, Green will continue to play an essential role in Brooklyn’s depth as a vital piece to assist their championship aspirations.

Off the court, Green has continuously been an inspiration and beacon of light, for those subjected to similar challenges and obstacles he faced with heart complications.

Even though it’s been nine years since his surgery, he supports and stands in solidarity with those fighting as shown by his recent collaboration with the non-profit organization “Harboring Hearts,” which aims to help and support patients that underwent heart surgery/transplants.

Jeff “Uncle” Green’s legacy will extend far past his playing days as someone who exemplifies hope and courage. The gift of health and life overshadows the game of basketball, and Green is walking proof of that.