It's the human and fun side of our sports heroes

Cavs’ Green appreciates NBA Finals run after heart surgery

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by Jim SLATER / Agence France-Presse

When Jeff Green underwent open heart surgery in January 2012 to repair an aortic aneurysm, doctors said he might never play basketball again. Now he’s playing in the NBA Finals.

The 31-year-old Cleveland Cavaliers forward scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in place of injured Kevin Love in a seventh-game Eastern Conference victory over Boston that lifted the Cavs into their fourth consecutive championship series and Green into his first.

“It’s fun. I’m going to enjoy every moment,” Green said. “I’m truly grateful to be here.”

Green scored seven points and passed out five assists over 36 minutes in Cleveland’s 124-114 overtime loss to Golden State in the finals opener Thursday.

The former Georgetown University standout was selected fifth overall by Boston in the 2007 NBA Draft and quickly traded to Seattle. He was traded to Boston in 2011 and was with the Celtics on December 17, 2011, when he was diagnosed with an enlarged aorta.

After surgery, Green missed the remainder of the season but worked to regain his fitness and re-signed withe the Celtics seven months later.

“My concern was health and getting back on the floor,” Green said. “After I got back on the floor, the main goal is to be able to compete in the finals and win a championship. And I’m here.”

It makes playing for a title that much sweeter when his career came so close to ending at age 25.

“I’ve battled. I’ve worked my (rear) off each day since January 9, 2012, to get back on this court and now compete for a championship. I almost lost it all, and now to talk about the NBA Finals and playing in it, I’ve been truly blessed to be able to step foot on this court, to play this game.

“Each day I give it my all, whether good or bad. I live with the results. But I am enjoying it, every single moment of this. I don’t take nothing for granted. Nothing.”

Green returned to a reserve role with Love completing concussion protocols ahead of Thursday’s NBA Finals opener, but his enthusiasm boosted teammates seeing a fourth consecutive finals trip through fresh eyes.

“What he does on the basketball floor is extra credit,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “This guy had open-heart surgery a few years ago. The game was basically taken away from him and they said it’s possible you’ll never play the game of basketball again.

“The fact that he can put on a uniform every day and do the things that he does out on the floor — I don’t care if he makes a shot — it’s the cherry on top because the game was taken away from him.”

– Green inspires LeBron –
Green bounced around to Memphis, the Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando before joining the Cavaliers last July as a free agent. He averaged 10.8 points and 3.2 rebounds a game for Cleveland, playing nearly half the game every night.

It’s a comeback tale that humbles even James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player in his ninth career NBA Finals and eighth in a row.

“I’ve always kind of had aspirations for Jeff, especially when he went through the heart surgery,” James said. “To see the game be taken away from someone so young, I was like, wow, this is a reset for me personally to never take the game for granted.

“It gives you an opportunity think (about) the situation you’re in. It was always great to compete against Jeff, especially after he was able to get back on the floor. None of us can actually know unless we’ve been through that, but you can be inspired by it.” (AFP)