Summer 2024

Nuggets' Jeff Green back in NBA Finals 11 years after 'God took care of' him in heart surgery

Every year, Denver Nuggets forward Jeff Green celebrates two birthdays. One is Aug. 28, the day he was born. The other is Jan. 9, the day he underwent open-heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm back in 2012.

The heart condition was discovered during the physical Green took after signing a contract with the Boston Celtics, who had acquired him from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the middle of the 2010-11 season. That physical most likely saved his life.

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“After the surgery, the doctors told me that the tissue (around the heart) had started to tear a little bit,” he told NBA.com in 2017. “So it was great timing and God took care of me.”

Green missed the 2011-12 season while recovering from the surgery and rejoined the Celtics in 2012-13, playing in 81 games. In a 16-year career that began with the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007, he has now played for 12 teams.

At some point along the way, Green has been teammates with Kevin Durant (twice), James Harden, LeBron James and Chris Paul, as well as the Celtics’ “Big 3” of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Now in his second year with the Nuggets, he’s alongside two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, and he’s headed to the NBA Finals for a second time. Green’s first appearance was in 2018, when he teamed with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and fell to the Golden State Warriors. After sweeping James’ Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals on Monday, Green’s second Finals appearance marks the first NBA history for the Nuggets franchise.

Following Denver’s Game 3 win over the Lakers, head coach Michael Malone praised Green for the impact he’s made on the team.

“He’s a 16-year vet who’s been around the block,” Malone said. “I’m happy for him, because Jeff Green is a high-character person who’s been a tremendous influence on and off the court.”

Green played in 56 games during the regular season, averaging 7.8 points and 2.6 rebounds. He is playing 18.5 minutes per game in the postseason and has appeared in all 15 of Denver’s playoff games.

And every day, Green is reminded how fortunate he was and how grateful he is to God.

“Every morning waking up and every night going to bed, I look at my scar,” he said in 2017. “And I tell the Lord, ‘Thank You’ for the blessing that He’s given me to keep living, to keep playing, just to continue to breathe every day.”

An impending free agent, Green will be 37 by the time next season begins. His journey has taught him to appreciate every moment he gets in the NBA and find a sense of peace amidst all the uncertainty of professional sports.

“With what I’ve gone through, that’s why I try to not let a lot of stuff stress me out,’’ he said in 2017. “I understand what a blessing it is to play this game, knowing the circumstances that I had to go through. A lot of us take the game for granted, but that’s not the case for me. I’m truly humbled by the game and when I say it, I mean it. I’m very blessed to still be able to put on this NBA uniform and do something that I love. How many ever years that I’ve got left, I’ll cherish every bit of it.’’

The Nuggets are waiting to see who they will face in the 2023 NBA Finals, which begin June 1. They will host Game 1 if it is the Miami Heat or travel to Boston if it is the Celtics.

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