A day after announcing they had officially re-signed Jeff Green, the Celtics released an exclusive interview with the forward, in which he discussed enduring the initial news that he would need heart surgery and would have to miss the entire 2011-2012 season, as well as the long road to recovery.
Green was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm following a routine physical just prior to last season -- harrowing news for a player who had set a high bar for himself for the upcoming campaign. He told Molly McGrath of Celtics.com that "so many things" went through his mind when he was first diagnosed.
"First, family. My life. Basketball came last. I mean, because being young, and not being able to play every day, you don't want to hear those type of things, that you have to stop your career, put it on pause, and have heart surgery. It was tough when I first heard the news, but over time and seeing my family, and meeting my family and becoming comfortable with what I had to go through, my nerves settled a little bit. But it was tough, it was real tough."
Green said that in the immediate aftermath of the procedure, which was performed at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, he had difficulty with what were once very basic tasks, including catching his breath and walking.
"It was hard. It was like starting from scratch," Green explained. "Basically I felt like I had to learn how to walk again, run, breathe, everything. It was like being born as a baby but, you know, 25 years old. It was tough. I had to re-learn different functions of my body, running, certain movements. I don't wish that on nobody."
The recovery process, which Green referred to as a "life-changing moment," proved to be lengthy, but over time, as his physical condition improved, he became determined to keep his absence from basketball as constructive as possible.
"I made great use of [the time]," Green said. "Actually it was a blessing in disguise. I had the opportunity to finish my degree, graduate. I walked in May. I spent time with my family, so I used the time wisely. I came back and watched some of the playoff games. But the most important thing was that I had a chance to just be around my family and I got a chance to graduate, which was pressure and stress taken off my shoulders, so I used it wisely."
The Celtics were universally commended for their handling of Green's situation. Rather than turn their backs on what Green was about to battle through, they embraced him, perhaps even stronger than when they initially traded for him in February of 2011. Green didn't take their dedication to him lightly.
"They searched high and low for the best doctor, for the best clinic to go to to have the procedure -- everything that I needed to make this procedure easy for myself," said Green. "It was tough. At first I didn't want the surgery because I didn't want to have this long scar or have to miss a season or have to deal with the recovery stages of it. And they made it so that every step of the way was going to be easy, and I give them all the credit for who I am now and what I've become, because without them, who knows where I would be at."
Green made several appearances in the Celtics' locker room and even alongside the team on the bench during its playoff run last season. He said it was a "no-brainer" choosing to return to Boston to support them, and that same clarity held true when it came time to re-sign with the Celtics long-term. Green said he has a lot to prove moving forward, as he's sure he'll face plenty of critics who will doubt him in the aftermath of his surgery. But he's ready to embrace a more assertive game, now that he's faced a very real taste of his NBA mortality.
"I'll still be the same player, but I think just my outlook on the time I have in this league has changed," Green said. "I think I have to be more assertive, more aggressive in different areas, not necessarily just scoring. I just have to change my outlook and my approach of the game, and that time that I had off and seeing certain spots on the floor where I can help, really helped my mindset."