WALTHAM Jeff Green was with his family for Thanksgiving a year ago, with the biggest care in the world being whether he and the rest of his NBA brethren would have a season to play.
Thanksgiving is a time of reflection for most and Green is no different.
But for him this holiday has a deeper, more significant meaning now.
That's what happens when life throws you the ultimate change-up that puts you in an Intensive Care Unit in Cleveland for a week for heart surgery and puts your life -- not just the game of basketball -- in jeopardy.
And as if that wasn't scary enough, Green told CSNNE.com that doctors had to go back inside a second time to repair some internal bleeding which extended his hospital stay.
"I didn't realize that (happened) until I left the hospital and I was talking to one of my good friends," Green told CSNNE.com. "What I had was bleeding internally. So they had to go back in and fix what it was."
Green added, "Everything that I have ever owned, everything that I have ever gained, everything I ever accomplished, was almost taken away from me in a matter of hours."
Jeff Green sits on one of the cushioned seats aligned against the wall at the Boston Celtics practice facility, his mind taking him yet again on a journey into his past, the present and what he and the C's hope will be a bright, promising future.
The 6-foot-9 forward will be the first to tell you that he has a lot to be thankful for today; first and foremost for being alive.
"To reflect on that makes me appreciate everything that I've done, everything that's coming towards me negative or positive, makes me appreciate it that much more," he said. "Who knows if I didn't find out? I might not be here. I might not ever play basketball again. I might not be alive. With the whole incident, it was a blessing. It opened my eyes and makes me appreciate a lot of things a lot more."
GETTING THE NEWS
After what had been a challenging adjustment period following the trade from Oklahoma City to Boston in the spring of 2011, Green was eager to prove his worth to Celtics fans heading into last season.
"I was feeling great," Green said. "I was ready."
During the lockout, Green still prepared himself as if there would be a season with workouts and pick-up games around his alma mater, Georgetown University. He participated in basketball charity events like the one hosted by Rajon Rondo at Harvard University, and wowed the crowd with electrifying dunks and a steady perimeter game.
All that remained was an NBA season and a new contract from the Celtics. Once the lockout was over, the C's inked Green to a one-year deal worth 9 million.
"We were very optimistic about Jeff and the role that he would play in our team heading into last season," Danny Ainge, Boston's president of Basketball Operations, told CSNNE.com in an earlier interview.
But a routine physical following the agreement changed everything.
"Like I said, I felt good, I felt ready," he said. "But that, obviously, wasn't meant to be."
There were some abnormalities detected involving his heart that prompted more tests.
Green initially shrugged it off, chalking it up to him being a bit more fatigued that day than usual and that with additional tests, it would work out fine.
But further tests only confirmed those initial findings.
Green left a preseason practice in December early to meet with doctors, as well Ainge, at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"They took me into a small room, just me, Danny, the doctors, and my agent (David Falk) on speaker phone," Green recalled. "And they ... they just told me. The measurements of your left valve ... you can either run the risk of not doing anything and it rupturing and being fatal, or get surgery."
There was no choice in Green's mind.
"'Surgery it is,'" he said.
Green was diagnosed with an aortic root aneurysm that would require immediate surgery.
And from there ... silence.
Like still waters that run deep, Green's silence masked a rush of emotions and concerns and fears that truth be told, Green simply could not express or put into words.
"I was in shock," said Green, visibly subdued as he recounts that day. "That's how I felt. It was like I just got shot, hit with a stun gun. Everything from my family, basketball career, my life ... I was seeing life flash before my eyes, that's what happened. You hear people talk about it, but you never believe it until it happens to you. I played back everything. Me getting drafted, going to Georgetown, me playing basketball ..."
And then it fades to black, bringing Green back to the reality that at this moment, all of those memories could be just that -- memories -- with no future add-ons unless this surgery works as planned.
"It was like boom ... that's all put on halt," Green said.
ANOTHER FIRST FOR GREEN ... SURGERY
While there have been questions about Green throughout his career, health has never been one of them.
Not including last year when his heart surgery kept him out for the entire season, Green has appeared in 327 out of a possible 340 regular season games between Oklahoma City and Boston.
"That's why the whole idea of me needing surgery, heart surgery at that, was so tough for me," Green said. "I had never had surgery before that; I had always been healthy, or at least I thought I was."
The surgery took more than five hours, with Green's heart stopped for about 90 minutes in between.
But even with his heart fixed, Green's thoughts immediately weren't on getting back to the court.
"There was so much I had to re-learn," Green said. "In a lot of ways, it was like being a baby all over again."
ROAD TO RECOVERY
After being released from Cleveland's Clinic, Green spent his first few weeks back home sleeping on the family couch.
"I couldn't lay in my bed," he said. "It's soft. I couldn't lay straight in my bed. I couldn't stretch out my chest or lay on my stomach for a while."
So Green essentially slept with his feet propped up on the couch, his body forming the shape of an 'L.'
"That sucked," he said. "I didn't get much sleep those first few weeks, months after surgery."
And when Green was able to sit up in his bed, he initially needed help getting out of it. From there, he progressed to getting himself out of bed by pulling on his shorts to lift one leg up, then the other.
It would be several weeks before he could do something as simple as turn to his left or right, and not feel pain.
For a player known for his athleticism, those initial days following surgery were a cruel reminder of just how special his set of skills are.
"Because by me being who I am," Green said. "Being able to run up and down the floor, being athletic, being able to move side to side as quick as I can, and all of sudden I can't sit up by myself? I can't move? I can't turn my torso to the left or right? It makes you appreciate those things a little more."
It also helps having a teammate like Chris Wilcox, who also underwent surgery for an aortic aneurysm just a few months after Green did.
Like Green, Wilcox sees this holiday from a different perspective as well.
"I definitely have a lot more to be thankful for this year," Wilcox told CSNNE.com.
And while the goal for both Green and Wilcox is to contribute as much as they can to help the C's, both understand that it's going to take time before they are able to contribute at a level each is accustomed to with the kind of consistency they would like.
Each player has had their share of critics for their slower-than-expected start which truth be told, doesn't make them all that different than the rest of the Celtics (6-6) who have collectively lost three of their last four games.
"A lot of people, they have a lot of stuff to say," Wilcox said. "But me and Jeff, we've been through a lot. For us to be at this point in our lives and doing what we love and we're just six, seven months, nine, 10 months out of heart surgery for Jeff, ... people expect you playing ball, you should be doing this, you should be doing that, but it takes time after something like what we've gone through."
Doctors told both players that it would likely be a year or so before they were completely back to full tilt.
"And we're out here just months out of surgery," Wilcox said. "That should tell you how much we both love this game, love being a Boston Celtic. This is the kind of dedication we have to this game we love."
Green's critics have been especially vocal in part because the C's signed him to a four year deal worth 36 million, which in the eyes of some is seen as excessive for a player who missed the previous season following heart surgery.
His agent David Falk said that there were avenues in which Green could have potentially landed a more lucrative deal elsewhere.
"But he made it clear that Boston is where he wanted to be," Falk told CSNNE.com. "And I give Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers and the entire Celtics organization a lot of credit. The way they handled Jeff's situation was first-class, all the way. There's a large reservoir of good will that exists between Jeff and the Celtics, and Danny and Doc, as well as myself.
Falk added, "there was a good bit of give-and-take on both sides. It wasn't like we were miles apart to start. I explained to Danny, Jeff was willing to take less money to return to Boston. It's where he wanted to be."
Green impressed many with a stronger-than-anticipated preseason in which he was arguably the Celtics' best player. He averaged 15.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and one blocked shot.
However, his play during the regular season has not been nearly as impressive.
In 12 games this season, Green has come off the bench and averaged 7.9 points in 21.3 minutes -- both career lows.
Green will be the first to tell you that he has to play better. But if there's one thing he has learned throughout his journey back to the court, it is patience.
Not only with his game, but also with people who expect him to contribute significantly right away.
"That's why you see me smiling everyday," he said. "I enjoy what I have, I enjoy what's going on whether it's good or bad. At the end of the day, through everything I've been through this whole year, as far as personally or with the surgery, I'm thankful for everything."