This was during the 2012-13 season, when he carried Chicago to a triple-overtime Game 4 victory against Brooklyn. He was miraculous in the open floor, scoring 34 points off the bench, including 23 in the fourth, one shy of Jordan’s franchise playoff record. Robinson fantasized about retiring in Chicago, but he says tensions with coach Tom Thibodeau escalated privately, as Robinson’s focus and maturity were once again issues. (Thibodeau did not respond to attempts through Timberwolves PR to reach him about this statement.) Robinson’s sadness deepened. The devil and the angel hounded from within. “The NBA gave me my depression,” Robinson says. “I’ve never been a depressed person in my life.”
What he sees is this: Green’s aorta, the main blood vessel in the body, is paper thin. It is on the verge of rupturing. “I was so grateful that we got to him in time,” Svensson says now, “before he had a major disaster.” Green would not know until later how close he had come to not just his career being over — but his life. It all happened on a day that he now refers to as his “second birthday,” the day he received a second chance — and newfound perspective. “To me basketball is secondary,” Green says now. “I had to really fight for my life. I almost died over this game.”
Svensson, for his part, reflects on the many professional athletes across sports whom he has worked with over the years. “Some bounce back and they cope with the challenge and they’re fighters, and they come back even stronger, having learned to mentally deal with the challenges — and some people don’t,” he says. He thinks back to Green’s heart. When he first looked at it, he saw how close it was to failure. But Svensson also noticed something else, something that seemed unusual, even compared with those of the other athletes and NBA players Svensson had examined. He could see what he described as a “massive network of collaterals” — or small blood vessels that had developed to feed Green’s heart with extra blood, bolstering it for the rigors of Green’s demanding profession.
They played together and against one another on the North Carolina AAU circuit, their initial introduction as teammates on the Charlotte Stars. “Steph was kind of frail, kind of small, and I could push him all over the court,” Young says. “My job was to toughen him up.” “CJ was a monster,” Curry says. “He was a physical specimen who had speed, athleticism and hand-eye coordination. He was the measure of a 12-year-old basketball player in Charlotte. “I was clearly overmatched.”
The diagnosis was multiple sclerosis. After undergoing months of extensive rehab, he could walk again, but his right side was weakened, and Young had trouble dribbling the ball. “I just couldn’t really make my body work the same anymore,” he says. Playing basketball was no longer an option. Young has never left Mecklenburg County. He’s much thinner now, the barrel chest gone, a casualty of his illness. He takes medication for his MS and has physical therapy sessions to help keep him mobile. Some days are better than others. He cannot work regularly, so he is on disability. Once in a while, he shows up to the high school games at his alma mater.
A day and a half later, an ESPN reporter supplies him with the answer. CJ Young, Curry is informed, has a debilitating illness. Curry, perched on a chair in the Georgetown gymnasium, visibly shudders upon hearing this news. “Damn,” he says, fiddling with his trademark mouthguard. “MS? How bad is it? Oh man, CJ. That’s rough.” He pauses for a long moment, his clear eyes fixated somewhere in the distance. “Just make sure he knows I appreciate the challenge he presented,” Curry finally says. “He had a part in my journey, for sure.”
Two days later, after an examination by a team doctor, Hornets officials announced Clifford would take an indefinite medical leave of absence. He spent 5½ weeks away from the Hornets. After a barrage of medical tests ruled out a brain tumor or a stroke or something else, doctors determined that a persistent lack of sleep had caused Clifford’s debilitating headaches. A neurologist informed Clifford he needed to do more than change the way he worked; Clifford needed to change the way he lived. He needed to devote more time to sleeping. “Going through it was professionally the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to go through,” Clifford says now. “It impacted our team in a bad way. I feel terrible about it. Now, personally, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.”