Three of hearts: Turiaf, Green, Wilcox share survival story


BOSTON -- The scars protruded above their jerseys, two more obvious than the one that has faded over the years.

The marks represented the struggles and fears all three players had overcome, and the triumphs they had achieved to share the same NBA court.

The Boston Celtics Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox and Los Angeles Clippers Ronny Turiaf are survivors of open heart surgery. Turiaf underwent the procedure in July of 2005, while both Green and Wilcox had season-ending surgeries in January and March of 2012.

The trio stepped on the TD Garden parquet to start the second quarter on Sunday afternoon. They played a total of less than four minutes together, but every second, every loose ball, every contested shot was monumental for Turiaf.

"It's something that's very powerful that transcends the game of basketball, that's very powerful and intense," he told "To be able to share a moment like this with three heart surgery survivors on the basketball court, I don't feel that people realize what just happened and they think they're just watching a basketball game."

Turiaf reached out to Green and Wilcox last season when he learned of their conditions. He had leaned on former NBA player Fred Hoiberg during his surgery and wanted to be the same support system for the two Celtics.

"I told them what to expect, told them I was there if they ever needed to talk," Turiaf said. "We talked a couple times here and there, trying to see if I could be of any help. I was very fortunate and very happy to be able to share my experiences with them."

Turiaf greeted Wilcox with a compliment that only a select number of people could appreciate -- "Your scar looks good," Turiaf told him.

Then they got down to business. As an NBA player, Turiaf battled with both Green and Wilcox. As survivor, he understood the significance of the opportunity to do so.

"Once you go past the moment where you feel good, you have a tendency to put it in the back of your mind because, to be honest with you, it's not a very pleasant experience," Turiaf said. "So you don't really want to bring it up, but whenever we see each other there is a great deal of respect. When we see each other's eyes, we definitely know what each other has been through."

The short amount of time Green, Turiaf, and Wilcox played together blend into the rest of the box score, but those few moments are a headline story in their lives.

"30, 40 years ago it probably would have not been possible," said Turiaf. "This day and age, for us to be professional athletes and exert our bodies to the limit the way that we do, to be able to have a stronger heart, to be able to perform at a high level, and to be playing against each other in the same league where there are only so many of us in it, it's very powerful and I think it's a testament to technology, faith, and how good life is."

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