Recently, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Jeff Green was a guest on The HoopsHype Podcast and he had a wide-ranging conversation with Alex Kennedy. They discussed Cleveland’s up-and-down season, Green’s 10-year NBA career, his 2012 open-heart surgery, what it’s like to play with LeBron James (on and off the court) and much more. You can listen to the episode here. But if you prefer to read what he said, a condensed transcript of the conversation is below.
In January 2012, you needed open-heart surgery because you had an enlargement of the valve to your aorta. What was it like going through that and did you fear your NBA days were over?
Jeff Green: Oh, I thought they were over. I didn’t fear it, I just assumed [my playing days were done] when I first heard that I had to have the surgery. In my head, it was done. I was thinking about how I was going to cope with that and what my next move was going to be. Then I had the interview with my surgeon, Dr. Lars Svensson, a month before the surgery and he told me that I would be allowed to continue playing without any problems. That eased my mind, but I still had a lot of doubt about my career when I was told I had to have the surgery.
What was it like going through the physical therapy after the open-heart surgery? Because not only were just trying to feel better day-to-day, you were also trying to get back into NBA shape.
JG: It was very humbling. Very, very humbling. During rehab, I was always among older folks who’d had multiple heart surgeries and who were 50 years old and up. I was by far the youngest in my rehab class, but the experience definitely humbled me, made me appreciate life more and it helped me make sure that I value each day because I went through a life-threatening surgery. My life changed in a matter of seconds. It definitely humbled me, and made value and appreciate life way more.
Your story is inspiring. Anyone who doesn’t know the details should look it up. Now, I want to talk about this season. When you decided to go to Cleveland, did you know there would be this much media coverage and did you expect the team to be under the microscope so much? Part of it is being on a contender, but a big part of it is playing alongside LeBron James, who generates so many headlines.
JG: From the outside looking in, in previous years before I got here, I would always see that the spotlight was constantly on LeBron and his team. But I never knew how fabricated [the stories] were. Like, every day, they try to figure out a story so that they can talk about the Cleveland Cavaliers and No. 23. When I got here, I didn’t know how much coverage there would be and how much we’d be in the spotlight. But after a couple weeks, it was getting pretty ridiculous because there were stories that were being made up about what was going on, what was happening. There were a lot of stories put out there that were false. When you’re playing with one of the best players to ever play this game – the best player to ever play this game – that comes with the territory. I’m starting to realize that. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to accept what they put out there and know in-house what the truth is and how to deal with it as a team. It gets to a point where you can’t believe everything you hear. As a team, we’ve learned to cope with that and deal with that throughout the year.
When you get out on the court with LeBron, he’s certainly worth the media attention and scrutiny. What has it been like playing with him and how has he helped your game?
JG: For sure. He definitely makes everything easier for everybody. He makes the game so much easier with his vision, the way he plays, his basketball IQ and the way he goes about his work every day. He works extremely hard to take care of his body and make sure he can put us in position to win our games. He gets a lot of scrutiny for what he doesn’t do, but a lot of people don’t see everything he does do behind the scenes. I’ve seen it firsthand. I’ve witnessed the incredible stuff he does. He’s having an amazing year and it seems like every day, he’s reaching another historic milestone. You’re sitting back like, “Man, he really did that? He’s the only player to do this?” It’s been amazing to watch and it’s been amazing to be a part of it.
How long do you think LeBron can continue playing? Iman Shumpert did an interview a while back talking about LeBron’s workout regime, icing, diet and overall dedication to keeping his body in peak shape. I believe Iman said he could play another 10 years. Given what you’ve seen and the fact that he’s never had a major injury, how long do you think he can play and perform at this level?
JG: As long as he wants. He’s a guy who really puts his money into his body and takes care of his body. He does whatever is necessary to make sure he’s able to go out every night and give it his all. The way he’s going, I think it’ll be up to him. He’ll decide when he wants to shut it out, given how much work he puts into his body. I think that’s a question you have to ask him. How many years does he want to play? I think it’ll be totally up to him. If you look at his game, he’s 15 years in and he’s finishing above the rim, he’s one of the biggest guys on the court, he hasn’t missed many games. I mean, he’s been everything for us this year. How many years is he going to play? You’d have to ask him [how many years he wants to play].
At the trade deadline, Cleveland dealt six players. When that’s all going down, that has to be kind of scary. Were you looking over your shoulder and wondering if you were next?
JG: I mean, yeah, of course. Nobody wants to be traded. I’ve been traded before, right at the deadline – like at 2:59! It’s not an easy thing to wait and see [if you’ll be traded], but this is a business and things happen. It’s out of your control and teams are going to do what’s necessary for them as they try to better their team. It’s definitely an uneasy feeling, when you’re sitting there and waiting. We brought in four new guys that have helped us in what we’re trying to accomplish.
I had never seen anything like that [trade deadline] because it all happened so quick. Like, it was one after another after another after another. And this was over the course of, like, 15 minutes. You’re following along and you’re like, “Oh, we did that? And that?! And that?!” It was crazy and I’ve never seen anything like it. It was a weird feeling because we lost so many good guys that I was close with. But it’s a business. It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to get it together [with that group]. It was definitely a shock. We had a road trip that day and going to the plane, it was like, “Wow. We just did that. Six guys are gone.” It’s something you can’t prepare for.
I’m not going to ask you about your thoughts on LeBron’s free agency because I’m sure you get asked about it a lot – whether it’s from fans you run into, people in your life, other media members. What I do want to know is how often does it come up and how annoying is it?
JG: I actually don’t get asked about it much, because I’m not going to talk about it even if I am asked. I mean, he’s a grown man and people can ask him, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to give you a [non-answer] that you don’t want to hear. But it does come up. It’s been coming up since day one of this season and I’m sure people will continue talking about it, writing articles and videos about it and sharing their opinion on what’s going to happen. It’s something you can’t control. But ultimately, he’s going to do what’s best for him and what’s best for his family. He’s a grown man and I think he has a right to do that. You can’t judge a man by what he wants to do. When that time comes, he’s going to make a decision and whether people like it or not, they have to live with it.
For the first year of your NBA career, you played for the Seattle SuperSonics. What was your experience like there and could you eventually see an NBA franchise being back in Seattle?
JG: I honestly hope that city gets an NBA franchise, and I hope it’s soon. That was an amazing city. They had everything you could ask for – amazing food, people and views, but especially great fan support. I mean, you can see it with the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners. They love their sports. That city deserves an NBA team. And I think they will get one. I just hope it’s during my NBA career so that I can go back and see the city some more and just enjoy it because it’s a great city. I thought it was sad when the team had to leave; I wanted to stay in that city and be a part of that city for a long time.
You were part of the Thunder’s core when they had Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka. You guys were a close group that had excellent chemistry. I remember you guys did everything together off the court. What was that time in your career like, playing with such a close-knit team?
JG: It was fun to be a part of. For me, you come in with somebody who is from where you are from in Kevin Durant — both of us are from [Prince George’s] county. That’s family. You’re more comfortable dealing with what you have to deal with because you have someone you can talk to who is your age. He comes from where you come from. The, the next year, we draft Russell Westbrook and then you have Serge Ibaka there. And then the next year, we draft James Harden. We had an incredible bond and we still have an incredible bond to this day that’s tight. Russell came to my wedding this past year. Other guys couldn’t because of things they had to do, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re still friends to this day and it’s a friendship and a bond that won’t be broken. That’s how you develop close friends off the court.
You have averaged double-figures in scoring in 9 of your 10 NBA seasons. Considering everything you’ve gone through and how productive you’ve been, do you consider yourself underrated?
JG: Honestly? Okay, I’m going to give you the honest answer. I do this, I play this game, because I love it. I play with joy. To sit here and say, “I’m underrated, I should be talked about and blah blah blah.” Nah. I couldn’t care less about what people have to say about my career and what I’ve done in the NBA. They may say, “Oh, Jeff wasn’t this at this point in his career,” but I don’t care. I do this because I love this game. Whether I have 2 points or I have 40 points, I’ve done great things in my career, I’m happy playing this game and I’ve enjoyed every up and down throughout my time with this game. I’ve enjoyed everything that his game has given me.
I’m proud of [what I’ve done]. Not everybody can be LeBron James. Not everybody can be the top player. You have to play your position, play your role, and do what you can in the position you’re asked to be in. I feel like I’ve done a great job of that. I live with it and I’m happy with it. It doesn’t make or break who I am. Off the court, I’m still the same family-first guy who loves his wife, loves his daughter. I’m just happy. I don’t live caring about whether I’m underrated or overrated. That doesn’t do anything for me. At the end of the day, I’ve played 10 years in this league and a lot of guys don’t get to see 10 years, so I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for a lot of things and every day, I just go into the gym, work hard and give it all I got. Then, when we have a game, I go out and give it all I got and I live with the results. I can live with everything I’ve gone through, I smile every day and I have fun doing this. That’s the honest truth. I can’t put it any other way.
When did you get to that point, where you could say, “Okay, I’m going to play my role and have my career and it’s okay that not everybody can be a superstar like LeBron.” When you’re younger, I think every player wants to be star and views that as the priority. When did you get to the point where reached that mindset and could be happy with what you’ve accomplished rather than wanting more?
JG: This year (laughs). Honestly. You go through a lot of things [in your head] and think of what you could’ve done better and how certain things played out. And we’re so accessible these days so you do hear people criticize you and ask, “Why didn’t Jeff Green do this,” or, “Why didn’t Jeff Green do that?” You hear it every day. When you’re young, you try to block it out, but it’s hard because you want to prove everybody wrong. It’s tough. It takes a while to accept that [you should be happy that] you’re in the NBA, you’re still playing meaningful minutes, you’re on a great team. That should be enough. It’s everything I could’ve asked for.
Everybody has a different path. God has a plan for your life and everybody’s is different. It’s taken a while – obviously (laughs) – for me to accept that this is my route, this is my path. But I accept it now and I will do whatever it takes to help this team win a championship. If that path is just going out there in the playoffs and just playing defense, that’s what I’ll do. I’m happy with that. But it has taken a long time to accept that and not go out there trying to prove people wrong and not getting down on myself if I don’t get the results that I want. Everybody goes through it. It’s just taken me a while to accept it and move on and be happy with everything. But at this point, I can honestly say I’ve accepted it. But I’m still working hard because I can obviously still get better. That’s not going to change. But I’ve accepted where I’m at and I’m happy with my career. And that’s the first step to appreciating your career, in my mind. My goal was to make it to the NBA and I did that. And then I did a lot of good things, and I’m proud of myself. I’m happy, man. I’m happy.