MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Jeff Green took the court as a Grizzly for the first time on January 14, 2015, and it did not take him long to give back to the Bluff City -- on and off the court.
At 25-years-old, doctors told Green he may never get to play basketball again. He is using his story to inspire kids in Memphis to never give up.
"Literally five minutes after running on a treadmill to laying on a bed, and they tell me I needed heart surgery," Green said. "It was scary."
This all happened while Green was playing for the Boston Celtics, a team which had already lost a player to heart problems.
In 1993, Celtics star Reggie Lewis collapsed on the court during a game. He later died of congestive heart failure while playing pick-up basketball.
"He died on the court by not getting checked," Green said.
Green made sure to see a doctor. He went through several hours of open heart surgery to repair an aortic root aneurysm. He missed the entire 2011-2012 season.
"When I first had the surgery, I was sad thinking life was over," Green said. "I couldn't play basketball, but meeting kids who go through it--and they're running around smiling--that puts life in perspective for me."
Now that he's in Memphis, Green is spending his free time at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in the adolescent cardiovascular surgery unit.
"It's very inspiring when you have a kid age of five and see them battle back smiling."
One of those kids is 7-year-old Matthew McCarter. He has undergone two heart surgeries at Le Bonheur.
"I have a fake aorta--a plastic one," McCarter said. "I get to play basketball, baseball, run around, and play with my friends."
Oh, and he also gets to compare surgery scars with a real life NBA Player.
"I don't want any kid thinking they're different just because they had the surgery," Green said. "I want them to think they're unique, they're better, they're a super hero. That's what I like to call it."
"He went through something like this," Matthew's dad, Steven McCarter, said. "He has a connection to the kids. I could tell just by walking around him."
"By Matthew seeing me play hard and have fun doing it, it can also inspire him to enjoy life and be happy," Green said. "And I know basketball isn't everything, but I appreciate it a little bit more [since the surgery]. You don't take it for granted."
In fact, Green doesn't take much of anything for granted anymore. While he recovered from heart surgery, he completed his degree at Georgetown. He says he's the first person in his family to graduate from college.