Jeff Green is flourishing as a Cleveland Cavalier
He came back from heart surgery to run with Tyronn Lue and The King
To say that Jeff Green has a newfound appreciation for life would be a complete understatement. His outlook has changed almost completely since January 2012, when the 6-foot-9 forward, then a member of the Boston Celtics, underwent open-heart surgery at the age of 25 after a routine physical revealed an aortic aneurysm.
Green sat out for most of the 2011-12 season. But nine months after successful surgery, he returned to play in Boston’s season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Oct. 30, 2012. “It’s something that’s true and dear to my heart — the way I battled to get back on the court and still play at a high level,” Green said. “A lot of people counted me out, and didn’t think I’d be able to come back. So I’m truly grateful for the work that I put in.”
Now 31, Green is experiencing another revival. Last summer he signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Cavaliers in an effort to reunite with one of his former coaches, Tyronn Lue, learn from LeBron James, and achieve a career goal: the NBA Finals. Before Cleveland’s 106-99 win over the Washington Wizards on Dec. 17 at the Capital One Arena, where Green played during his three-year career at Georgetown University, he talked about loving his Hoyas (and hating Syracuse). He revealed which rapper (yes, rapper) would play him in a movie. And he opened up about why life, and basketball have become so much more precious.
How often do you get a chance to watch the Hoyas play?
Whenever they play earlier, because most of the time when they play late, it’s on my game day. I’ve seen quite a few games this year.
Where were you when you found out Patrick Ewing was hired as Georgetown’s head coach?
I was probably home in Miami, my house where I stay in the offseason. There were rumors … speculation that he’d get the job. I was hoping he did, to keep it in the Georgetown family. It’s a good move for him. He’s going to put them in the position to get back to glory. It was tough when coach Thompson left, because they lost a lot of recruits. I give it a year or two before they’re back on top.
Who’s on the Mount Rushmore of Georgetown players?
Man … you got Ewing to start, Alonzo Mourning, Allen Iverson, for sure, Dikembe Mutombo. For me, being a D.C. guy, Victor Page is a guy I’ll recognize because he’s from the area. And myself! Georgetown has some great history, and some great players that came through … David Wingate … Sleepy Floyd!
You’re a member of the Cavs, but Georgetown is your alma mater. So, which team do you hate more — Golden State or Syracuse?
The hate for Syracuse will always be there. That will never change. Some things you can’t control in the NBA, as far as trades and all that. You never know … as far as placement. But there’s hate for Syracuse, because of the history. I have a couple good friends who went to Syracuse — Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Carmelo Anthony, Hakeem Warrick — and it’s always bragging rights when the two teams play.
Why the Cleveland Cavaliers?
For one, what they did in the last couple years, as far as making it to the Finals. That’s something I wanna experience. The opportunity to play alongside LeBron James, to learn, to grow, to better my game — I thought that could help. With T. Lue being the head coach, and he and I having a past, being in Boston together, him knowing how to put me in positions to succeed — I was looking forward to that. I know him very, very well, and he knows me very well. I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to revive my career … and it’s been great so far. I was very blessed, and very thankful when they called.
What’s one thing not many people know about LeBron James that you’ve come to learn since joining the Cavs?
Everybody knows who LeBron is. He’s a hard worker. He goes into practice and puts in the work to be who he is. He’s a big, big joker. He’s a very, very humble human, which people may not [believe] because of the position he’s in. He’s a people person. He clowns a lot, which makes him personable.
Who’s the most stylish player on the Cavs?
Besides myself? [laughs] … that’s a hard one. If I had to pick, I’d either say J.R. Smith or Tristan Thompson. But everybody on the team has their own unique style, everybody loves to dress, and it makes it fun. It’s an unspoken competition … there’s a lot of eyes on the Cavs style nowadays.
Who was your childhood hero, and why?
Not to be cliché, but it’s definitely my dad … my parents. They both worked hard to put myself and my sister in the positions we’re in today. They gave us everything they had, and me and my sister just repay them by doing what we can for them at this point. My dad was definitely one to work multiple jobs, my mom worked multiple jobs, just to make sure we were taken care of. They did it.
Who’s your favorite athlete of all time, and why?
I look up to, obviously, Michael Jordan — somebody who every game gave it his all, played his heart out. Amazing role model, did everything he could to better the game, better himself. Magic Johnson was also someone else I looked up to, because of his style of play, being able to play multiple positions, handle the ball, play the 5, play the 4, play point. Scottie Pippen, the way he was on defense … basically a lot of guys who transitioned the game to the way it’s played now. Guys who were able to play multiple positions and play both ends.
Who’s the toughest player you’ve ever had to guard in your career?
Kobe [Bryant] is definitely at the top. LeBron … we’ve had some battles. Tracy McGrady was a tough one … he could do it all. Carmelo, D-Wade, Tim Duncan … I’ve guarded a lottttt of guys throughout my career who were tough matchups. It’s definitely a long list.
What made you decide to wear the No. 32?
I could sit here and say it’s because of Magic Johnson, but honestly because it was the last jersey in high school that was given out … I never had a favorite number, I was never superstitious when picking a jersey. But No. 32 was something that I had, from sophomore year to senior year. When I got to Georgetown, it was available. I just stuck with it, because it was the only number I knew. There’s no rhyme or reason behind it.
Who was the better MC — Tupac or Biggie, and why?
I’m East Coast, so I’d say Biggie. But both are truly amazing. My catalog of Tupac isn’t that big, but I do have the couple albums that Biggie put out. I probably know more Biggie verses.
If you could pick one actor to play you in a movie, who would it be?
I’m a big Andre 3000 fan. I consider him an actor, even though he’s a rapper. I got compared to him, as far as looks, when I was younger. So I would say 3000, because we resemble each other a little bit — and it used to be hairstyles [laughs].
If you could give your 18-year-0ld self advice, what would you say?
Awww man … that list is long. For one, I would say just have more joy in everything, and to live every day like it’s the last. And I say that because when I was 25, I went through that heart surgery. Before that, you kind of procrastinate a lot as far as your everyday things, as far as talking on the phone, saying, ‘I love you’ to loved ones … saying, ‘I’ll put it off until tomorrow.’ I would definitely tell my 18-year-old self … ‘Tomorrow is never guaranteed.’
Did the experience of having heart surgery rejuvenate your love for basketball?
Of course. It definitely did. That’s not to say I took basketball for granted before, but I also wouldn’t say I gave it everything … After the surgery, I definitely appreciate basketball, life in general, people to a higher degree. Because basketball was almost taken away from me, relationships were almost taken away from me.
What will you always be a champion of?
Life … because of my past, and the things that I overcame. The fight that I had to endure to get back on the court — that’s something that no one can ever take away from me.