Jeff Green is an inspiration and a class act.
With the Boston Celtics trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers by one with only 2.1 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter on Wednesday, Green received the ball off the inbound, streaked down the lane and hit a layup as time expired.
Green went nuts. His teammates went nuts. The Cavaliers lowered their heads and began the long walk back to the locker room.
Boston had won. But this was more than just another victory.
Slightly more than 14 months ago, the forward underwent successful heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. The man who performed the surgery, Dr. Lars Svensson, was in the stands, watching as his patient won the game for the shorthanded Celtics.
Afterward, Green dedicated the victory to him (via Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald):
He said ‘Great game,’ and he’s proud of me. Just a year ago and a couple of months I was under that bright light, with him working on me ... It’s a blessing to be here. He’s paying attention to what I’m doing. That was for him, then. That was for Dr. Svensson.
Green's return to action hasn't been easy, nor always pretty, but he's come so far in just a little more than a year. To see him hit the game-winning shot in front of the doctor who made it possible was uplifting.
Critics have belittled Green's performance all season, claiming that his contract was four years and $36 million worth of an impulsive mistake. But he hasn't allowed unflattering narratives to deter his ultimate goal. His aspirations and moral resolve act as an armor, leaving him impervious to any and all snap judgements.
Since the All-Star break, Green is averaging 16.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks on 47.6 percent shooting per game. He's knocking down a high percentage of his shots from three-point range (39.6) and has emerged as a consistent source of production the Celtics can lean on.
"To have a game like this here, in front of my doctor, I think made him proud," he said.
That's putting it lightly.
Green's resurgence can only be described as incredible. His perseverance has carried him to new heights, to apexes he had never seen prior to the surgery.
With the Celtics playing without Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger, they need Green more than they ever have before. And Green has responded in kind, playing better than he ever has before.
The gravity of his journey will never be lost on anyone, least of all Green himself. He understands what happened, what was once at stake and what he has the opportunity to accomplish now. And he's forever grateful.
"I’m lucky to be back on the court, and I owe it all to him," Green said of Dr. Svensson. "I’m just blessed and thankful.”
Selfless, resilient and inspiring.
He's all those things too.