Nuggets Journal: On 10-year anniversary of open-heart surgery, Jeff Green doesn’t forget

Jeff Green’s memory stretches as long as his well-traveled career.

He remembers the general managers and league executives who told him he wouldn’t stick in the league after he underwent successful open-heart surgery in 2012. As Green celebrates the 10-year anniversary on Sunday of his five-hour surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm, he’s thankful for a whole lot, including those who doubted him.

“A lot of GMs, a lot of teams told me I wouldn’t even make it past five (years),” Green told The Denver Post. “To be here (at) 10, I’m just blessed, man. I’m thankful … and I’m glad they told me that.”

Green likely owes his life to a routine physical with the Boston Celtics. It was there that doctors noticed and flagged the condition and soon consulted renowned cardiac surgeon Dr. Lars Svensson of the Cleveland Clinic. Surgery, which included stopping Green’s heart for an hour, happened on Jan. 9, 2012.

The 9-inch scar, stretching from the bottom of his neck to the top of his abdomen, has become a source of pride for Green.

“I see the scar every day,” said Green, a constant reminder of how close he was to losing everything.

Green’s wife used to commemorate his “second birthday” with red velvet cake, though he’s dropped the tradition the past few years. With this being No. 10, Green didn’t rule out getting a slice Sunday. The Nuggets will be on the road in Oklahoma City, coincidentally the same organization he began his career with.

In truth, just being on the floor is a gift for Green.

Small things, even the game itself, took on new meaning for Green in the wake of his surgery.

“Time, being around people, my teammates, my family. You don’t take those things for granted,” he said.

It’s why you’ll rarely see Green, even at 35, not smiling when he’s with teammates. He might be long in the tooth, but he’s still quick with a joke. And he’s more than used to getting ribbed for his age, a compliment if there ever was one since he still jumps higher than most of his teammates.

Ironically, Green doesn’t think most of his teammates know about his history. The majority of them weren’t in the NBA in 2012, and that’s yet another source of pride.

“That’s a testament of the hard work,” he said. “They watch me play. They don’t see what I’ve been through.”

Green said that once Svensson told him he’d be able to play again, he never doubted his staying power.

“I knew it,” Green said.

He just needed the assurance that it was feasible, and the rest was on Green and his hunger.

“In the job that we do, a lot of people look for us for motivation, for inspiration, so it’s my duty to go out there each night, off days, work hard and enjoy the process of it,” Green said. “It’s my job to make sure I’m in shape, that I’m prepared to play, because it could be somebody in the stands that might be going through what I went through.”

In the years since his surgery, Green said he’s lost touch with Svensson, but he hasn’t lost his sense of responsibility. Green’s done work for New York-based nonprofit Harboring Hearts and the American Heart Association, whether that be Zoom calls or Valentine’s Day messages to people who need encouragement.

Asked one more time if he remembers those dubious interactions with general managers and Green’s eyes nearly roll out of their sockets while a giant grin crawls across his face.

“Yeah,” said Green, with a deep sense of satisfaction in his voice.

Green keeps it cordial whenever he sees them. A dutiful listener, he doesn’t have much to say. He knows his 14-year career speaks loud enough.

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