Sis says gift of kidney shows Ostertag's all heart
DALLAS - She's feisty, aggressive and slightly vindictive - all the traits that she and other Utah Jazz fans wish her big brother would develop.
Amy Hall has Greg Ostertag's kidney. Now, if he just had her mean streak.
"If we could switch personalities," Hall said, "he'd be a hell of a player."
Three years after donating his kidney to his only sibling, Ostertag is returning to the Jazz for a 10th season that begins with training camp in two weeks. When the trade was reported in July - bringing back Ostertag from Sacramento, where he spent one season after signing as a free agent - the mere mention of his name evoked more response from Jazz devotees than for any transaction in franchise history.
"When you say the name Ostertag," Hall observed, "people are just spittin' fire."
He absorbs the criticism better than she does. Interviewed in the 32nd-floor office in downtown Dallas where she handles the accounting for a law firm, Hall joked about her brother's easygoing nature, talked about trying to make him more assertive on and off the court, and took some shots at his critics.
She also wants him to receive more credit - if not a lifetime exemption from basketball fans' displeasure - for the selfless act that jeopardized his career and extended her life.
Hall is healthy, even if her daily regimen requires dozens of pills and four insulin shots and she still needs a portion of a new pancreas, and she's thankful to her brother. She has developed something of a comedy routine about her transplanted kidney, which became necessary after she suffered from juvenile diabetes.
"There's a possibility that in 20 years, I'll need another one," she said. "Greg would just be out of luck, because I'd take that other one, too."
In the meantime, she's eager to watch him vindicate himself with the Jazz.
"I think there's a reason he has come back to Utah," said Hall, who will turn 30 next month. "For some reason, I got a second chance to live and be healthy; Greg got a second chance to redeem himself. I, in my heart, think he'll come back and take it by storm. He may not. But I think he's going to come back and shut all those people up in Utah."
Whatever the reason - his 7-foot-2 height, his salary, his occasional flashes of ability, his Texas accent - Jazz fans have continually dogged Ostertag.
Hall understands that professional athletes are accountable to fans and subject to scrutiny. She also sees what they see: that he's too passive on the court. "I think he should come to the 'Amy's Philosophy of Life' class," she said.
Lesson One: assertiveness.
Hall, who stands 6 feet tall, played some basketball when she and Greg were growing up in the Dallas suburb of Duncanville, Texas. Wanting to distinguish herself from her brother, who's 2 1/2 years older and went on to the University of Kansas, she moved into debate and drama.
In basketball, "I was aggressive," she said. "I always fouled out. I was mean."
In last year's U.S. Transplant Games, where she played 3-on-3 basketball with other organ recipients, she was advised to tone down her physical style.
"Oh, man. I don't care how big Shaquille O'Neal is," she said. "If he starts pushing me around, he's going down. I'm sorry."
O'Neal once slapped Ostertag when they crossed paths between practices. Ostertag did not retaliate. His sister's imagined response? "Oh, I'd have gotten up and we'd be out there in the middle of the court fighting," she said.
So in that sense, she understands where Jazz fans are coming from. She even gives her brother advice about demanding more of himself, but understands his makeup.
"With Greg, he gives you what he's got," she said. "If that's not good enough, 'Oh, well.' "
That translated to averages of 5.1 points and 5.9 rebounds during his first nine seasons with the Jazz. Beyond those numbers, the bigger issue was his inconsistency. And when Ostertag was unable to live up to his good performances, fans quickly became disenchanted with him - far more than with other players, for some reason.
"I've never been able to figure that out," she said.
Hall monitors everything that's written about her brother, via an Internet function that alerts her to any mention of his name. She believes the criticism is too predictable and too personal, that fans and news media members are overly harsh and unyielding in their judgment of him.
She says she's only slightly biased in her defense of him, but that's not quite true. For all of her jokes about the transplant - and his; he occasionally asks how "Junior" is doing inside of her - she's still touched by his gesture, which took no prodding.
"Greg and I have always been close," Hall said, "but now it's a whole different ballgame."
Maybe that will be the case with Ostertag's second tour with the Jazz. Fans, who have a license to love conditionally, will critically evaluate his play. Hall wants him to succeed and change people's opinions, but her view of him will never change.
Thanks to her 7-foot-2 brother, she has a proportionally sized, fully functioning kidney. Ostertag plays basketball with one kidney. And there's more inside, his sister says: "He's got the biggest heart in the world."