NBA Veteran Jeff Green Finds Comforts of Home with Washington Wizards

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Jeff Green’s basketball journey has been a rocky one. The game has given him incredible highs—from leading Georgetown to the 2007 Final Four, to being taken fifth overall in the that year’s NBA draft, to playing with three future MVPs in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. It’s also exposed him to some of his lowest lows: seven franchises, four trades and a heart condition that threatened his career, and his life.

All the while, Jeff remained rooted in his native Washington, D.C. It’s where he spent the 2011-12 season recovering from heart surgery, where he found his basketball brethren and where he bought a house for his father, Jeffrey Sr.

For his 11th season, Jeff signed with the Washington Wizards, returning to the place that raised him as a player and a person. For him, this means a chance to merge his NBA and offseason homes, to make an impact in the community that forged him and to wear his city’s insignia in front of folks who know it better than anyone. The kid born in Cheverly, Maryland, is ready to carry the mantle.

“Every time I’m on the court, every time I’m just out and about, I represent where I’m from,” Jeff tells CloseUp360 from his penthouse suite overlooking the Potomac River, with a view of the Washington Monument. “But also, reminding myself this: It’s a different moment and it’s about business because I’m here to play basketball again—not see family 24/7 like I normally am when I visit.”

Jeff is a deeply family-oriented person, making this return to the nation’s capital especially emotional for him. He describes it as “everything” to him, and plans to take his two daughters, Sofia and Jasmine, through his life story in the city once they’re older. He mentions how his father, for whom he purchased a D.C. home during his rookie season, can now see him and his daughters any time. Being so close to his family continually for the first time in years has been a welcome change.

“Having the rest of my family is amazing, being a phone call away,” he says. “15-20-minute drive, that’s been amazing for me. It’s been amazing for them because they don’t have to circle a date on a calendar, when I’ll be in the city, for them to see me.”

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Jeff with his daughter, Sofia. (Johan Chiriboga)

Going home is not without drawbacks. For one, familiar faces have been known to clamor for tickets. Though Jeff says that hasn’t been the case, he’s taken steps to avoid any issues there.

“I don’t give everybody tickets,” he says. “When I came home, first thing I told them was, ‘I’m not giving you all tickets to every game. You only get four.’ And they understood that because they know it’s not a party scene. You come to games, you have a lot of family, so it’s, like, I can’t make everyone happy.”

To streamline the process, Jeff gives two of the four seats to his wife, Stephanie, and leaves the other two “free to rotate” among the rest of his inner circle.

Even with the ability to be there every game, Jeff’s family still hears from him prior to each one. As is his ritual, he calls Jeffrey Sr. and Stephanie before every contest.

“We go back and forth,” Jeff says of his pregame conversations with his father. “Joke around and then he tells me to play hard, have fun, keep doing what you’re doing ‘Slim.’ And that’s about it. Other than that, it’s a random call for me to annoy him a little bit, see what he’s doing. Takes your mind off basketball for a little while.”

Even on the court, Jeff can’t avoid his connection to the nation’s capital. He is one in a long line of NBA players with roots in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area (a.k.a. “the DMV”). That tree includes Kevin Durant, Victor Oladipo, Markelle Fultz, Michael Beasley, Quinn Cook, Ed Davis, Jerami Grant, Rodney McGruder and Patrick Patterson, among others.

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Jeff with Sofia and his wife, Stephanie. (Johan Chiriboga)

As Jeff sees it, hoopers from D.C. are known for being versatile on the court, and share a bond off of it. KD, who was a teammate of his in 2007 (the same year they were both drafted), reached out to Jeff to ask what it was like to be back home.

“We embrace each other—to get through the city, all that comes with it,” Jeff says. “The extracurriculars, the drugs, the street violence—to get through that to make it to the NBA—we embrace each other. Because we love to see our brothers make it and that’s what we’re about.

“We don’t bring each other down. We keep building each other up and we expect more from each other.”

Jeff formed his foundation at Georgetown University, less than a half-hour’s drive from his birthplace in Cheverly. In 2007, he capped his three-year college career as a Hoya with the Big East Player of the Year award, the Big East championship and a trip to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament.

“I always get reminiscent about the Georgetown days,” he admits. “That’s always—every time I’m home—that’s always the first thing that’s said. ‘Oh, man, I miss the Georgetown days. I miss you being on the court with the Hoyas.’

“But it’s always great to relive these memories and to go back down memory lane. I’m always here to support the now, what the team has now, what Georgetown has to offer now.”

Five years after declaring for the NBA draft—and following a few summers of classes—Jeff went back to campus and graduated from Georgetown with a degree in English and theology. He feels a strong pull towards education, and views it as a means of giving back to the community that raised him.

“I’m big on education, as far as helping kids realize that—especially ones that love to play sports—that it’s bigger than that,” he explains. “You have a short window in which you play sports. If you make it to the professional level, to let them know that you have to find another avenue, other hobbies, other professions that you might like because, like I said, whether it’s football or basketball, it’s a short window. And you have to create after that.

“So find something you love, take education serious and try to do something you love. That’s what it’s all about.”

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Jeff received his degree in English and theology from Georgetown in 2012. "I'm big on education," he says. (Johan Chiriboga)

For now, Jeff’s primary love is (and has been) basketball. But earlier in his career, that passion was nearly taken away from him.

Following the 2011 lockout, a physical with the Boston Celtics revealed he would need heart surgery to treat an aortic aneurysm, which threatened not only his career, but his life. Going through the process at home helped him make a full return.

“Those flashbacks are something that I always think about,” Jeff explains. “Going through heart surgery, being from here, coming home right before I had heart surgery, coming home after heart surgery… Most of my rehab, or, you could say, time to get back on the court was here. I came home and got around family, took my mind off basketball, took my mind off the surgery, had the surgery, came back and I just rested.

“And then once it was time to start working out, I was here—here in Maryland, at the local gym, running up and down the court just trying to get back into shape. That’s something I’ll never forget. D.C. helped me grow to the person I am twice, you could say. Like I said, this is a city of character and it helps build character.”

Jeff would come back after missing a season in the NBA to continue his hoops journey. He spent time with the Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando Magic, before joining the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Last spring, Jeff played in his first NBA Finals alongside LeBron James. And just after his hometown Washington Capitals clinched the Stanley Cup, he arrived at Game 4 in none other than an Alexander Ovechkin jersey.

Just repping his city like he always has in his heart, and now does every night—be it with his own uniform during the game or his outfits, before and after, designed by his stylist and brand consultant Brandon Williams.

“It’s a great feeling, knowing that you’re dressed up, you’re clean," Jeff says. "With Deion Sanders, he always says, 'You dress well, you play well, you look good'—and that’s the mindset.”

 

David Vertsberger is a veteran NBA writer based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter.