Jeff Green is a 33-year-old basketball player for the Utah Jazz. He was born in Cheverly, Maryland, which is about eight miles away from the White House. He played high school basketball in Hyattsville, Maryland — about seven miles away from the White House. He went to college at Georgetown University, where he played his home games in Capital One Arena, less than a mile away from the White House. He spent 21 years of his life in the Washington, D.C., area.
Last season, he played for the Washington Wizards, who also play their games in that building. And yet, Green recoils if you call that year a homecoming.
“No, no. I was at a different point in my life. You know, I have kids, I have a wife. If I was single, my first time there, I could be like, ‘damn, this is a homecoming,'" Green said. “But I’ve been in the league for so long. Ten-plus years, playing there multiple times, it becomes more of just another game that I know now.”
For Green, home is in the NBA. Wherever he happens to be.
A dangerous discovery
Yes, the first 21 years of Green’s life were spent around the nation’s capital. The next 12 years have been far more nomadic.
Green was drafted fifth overall by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007; they traded franchise icon Ray Allen to the Celtics for the pick. He played in Seattle for just one season before the team moved to Oklahoma City. There, in his second year, he outscored a young Russell Westbrook with 16 points per game, though he fell well short of Kevin Durant’s first-place slot.
In his fourth year, he was traded to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Kendrick Perkins. And suddenly, everything changed.
As he was going through a standard preseason physical, Celtics doctors noticed something unusual with his heartbeat. Eventually, it was decided that Green has an aortic root aneurysm, which put him at risk of dying every time he plays. Green, 25, was terrified, but chose to get the surgery so he could play again.
When they cut Green open, doctors at the Cleveland Center discovered that his aorta, the primary artery carrying blood away from the heart to the rest of the body, was “paper thin." It was extremely close to bursting open. Green’s heart surgeon, Dr. Lars Svensson, later told ESPN that “I was so grateful that we got to him in time before he had a major disaster.”
And later, when he woke up from surgery, Green spent four or five days in a hospital bed before he could look at himself in the mirror. He would later write about the experience:
"Instead of the smooth, muscled chest I was used to seeing, there was a long, jagged, pink line from the base of my neck to the top of my abdomen. It was a scar, running nine inches across my chest. That wasn’t all. Right above my abdomen, I saw three huge, sewn up holes from where tubes pumped fluids in and out during the surgery. (Years later those marks are still there. They look like bullet wounds.) And there were divots from the 16 rods that held open my rib cage — where Dr. Svensson and his team at the Cleveland Clinic opened my chest — that ran along the length of the scar. At the bottom of the scar, right above my abs, there was a section of skin that resembled the rectangular, springy end of a diving board, and you could see the stitches poking through the bottom of my chest.
“In one day, everything I knew about my body had changed.”
Green came back. Yes, he missed the entire 2011-12 season as he recovered, but the next two and a half seasons may have been when he was at his peak: He averaged 17 points per game for the 2013-14 Celtics, leading a team reeling from the trade of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in scoring.
In 2015, Green was traded to Memphis. The Grizzlies saw Green as a potential piece that could help boost the Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol core over the top, but it didn’t work that way at all. The next season, the team went from winning 55 games to 42 games. One reporter, Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, said during that season that “[He] was told, point blank, by a guy in that locker room who matters that Jeff doesn’t care.”
Green disputes that report.
“To say I didn’t care? I mean, I think that’s a that’s a crazy thing to say,” Green says. “To say and to report ‘I don’t care’ was atrocious and very untrue. Anybody who I’ve come in contact with as far as playing basketball, ‘Jeff Green not caring’ would never come out of their mouth. I can guarantee you that.”
Regardless, Green was traded that season to the L.A. Clippers for a first round pick. Since then, he’s never stayed with one team for more than a year. He played in 27 games with the Clippers to round out that season, then has signed four consecutive one-year deals: first with the Orlando Magic, then the Cleveland Cavaliers, then the Wizards last year, and now for the Jazz. The last three were all minimum contracts too, a fact that befuddles his colleagues.
“I do NOT understand how and why Jeff Green keep signing these 1 year deals for the minimum,” Dwyane Wade tweeted in July. “This is now 3 years in a row. He’s never injured, He’s never been a problem in the locker room, He’s athletic, he can shoot the 3, he can guard multiple positions and he’s not old.”
Green was asked about why he kept getting the short and cheap deals. “The reason I have signed them? I don’t know; you gotta ask all these GMs and these teams,” Green said. “I want to win. I’ve put in the time and I’ve put in the work to not have the minimum deals. It’s very disrespecting."
His eighth team
Now in his 12th NBA season, in his ninth city, on his eighth team, on his third minimum deal, Green has seen it all. So after a couple of months with his new team as its oldest player, what stands out?
“The personalities. There’s no egos,” Green said. “And it’s weird to say that in the NBA. Everybody has one really determined goal, and that’s to win."
What stands out is that nobody stands out.
Green uses the example of Royce O’Neale. In the team’s Oct. 30 game against the Los Angeles Clippers, O’Neale took no shots, scored no points, despite starting and playing 24 minutes. He played well in every other facet, just never got around to scoring. “His demeanor after that game was just like, ‘we won, man, I don’t care.’ And that’s rare."
“That’s why I love it so much, because of the personnel that the front office put together,” Green said. "There’s just a good group of guys who love playing basketball and all have the same goals. We love being around each other. That’s amazing.”
While we’re talking, Green’s phone rings. It’s a FaceTime from Joe Ingles. Ingles is sitting 20 feet away, looking at us, both in real life and on the screen. He’s just calling to make Green — and himself — laugh.
But it’s the perfect interruption because it illustrates his point brilliantly. At this point in his career, that’s what motivates Green: playing basketball with his friends, thankful that he still can.
“I always revert back to my surgery. ... The surgery put it all in perspective, because when you come into this league, it consumes you. Trying to always get the money, get the fame that comes with all this. You tend to lose track with what you started doing this for. It all started with a joy."
“I’m lucky to have this game," Green continues. "I love playing basketball. It’s not about the money, it’s not about what comes with it. I love this sport.”
For Jeff Green, home is where the heart is.
JAZZ VS. CLIPPERS
At Staples Center, Los Angeles
Tipoff • Sunday, 7 p.m. MST
TV • ATTSN
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 4-2; Clippers 4-2
Last meeting • Jazz, 110-96 (Oct. 30)
About the Jazz • Ed Davis (fractured fibula), Emmanuel Mudiay (hamstring tightness) and Dante Exum (knee surgery rehab) are out against the Clippers. … Exum and teammate Miye Oni practiced Friday with the Salt Lake City Stars and were called back to the Jazz on Saturday. … Despite a good start to the season, Jazz are currently 30th in the league in collecting offensive rebounds and turnovers
About the Clippers • Paul George is expected to miss at least the season’s first 10 games due to a shoulder injury. … Clippers have had two days off since beating the San Antonio Spurs 103-97 Thursday. … Clippers lead the league in points per game, scoring 114.2 per contest through their first six