OAKLAND (California) • 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 is playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals.
The Cleveland Cavaliers forward scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in place of Kevin Love in Game 7 of their 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," the 31-year-old said. "I'm truly grateful to be here."
With Love completing concussion protocols ahead of last week's Finals opener, Green returned to a reserve role and had seven points and five assists over 36 minutes in Cleveland's 124-114 overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors.
He is set to come off the bench again in Game 2 today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time), when centre Tristan Thompson will be available after he was fined US$25,000 (S$33,400) by the NBA but not suspended for an altercation with Golden State's Draymond Green in Game 1.
Green 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 Dec 17, 2011, when he was diagnosed with an enlarged aorta. After surgery, he missed the remainder of the season but re-signed with the Celtics seven months later.
"My concern was health and getting back on the floor," he 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. I've battled. I've worked my (rear) off each day since Jan 9, 2012 to get back on this court and now compete for a championship."
Cavaliers star LeBron James appreciates what Green has been through since his career came so close to ending at age 25.
"What he does on the basketball floor is extra credit," James said.
"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 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 is a comeback tale that humbles even James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player in his ninth career NBA Finals.
"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," the 33-year-old said.