LOGAN — Former Los Angeles Lakers star A.C. Green became known as the NBA's "Iron Man" for playing in a record 1,192 straight games.
Turns out he almost didn't play pro basketball at all.
While visiting a former teacher in Hermiston, Ore., with 10 of his closest friends, the group decided to attend a nearby Christian church. After the service, the pastor and Green discussed his spiritual future and the prospect of being found in the Kingdom of God. The 17-year-old high school all-American, who had just received a full-ride scholarship to the number one basketball school in the country — Oregon State — had only one question: "Does this mean I don't play basketball anymore?"
Although he was willing to give up the game altogether, the pastor told him that wouldn't be necessary, as long as he honored the Lord through his game. However, Green's response showed the beginning of his "all chips in" approach to the Christian lifestyle.
"There was no turning back for me," Green says. "Matthew 6:33: 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all things shall be added unto you' was just something I was dumb enough to believe was true. I told the Lord 'You redefine what it is that I am now as a man. You tell me who A.C. Green is. What people say and what you say are two different things and I need to know what it is that you say.'"
Who Green discovered was a transformation from the self-proclaimed "most insecure all-American you could have found." Growing up the youngest of four children in Portland, Ore., Green described his younger self as "scary shy." Whether it was a party or a classroom, he could be found in the furthest corner one could find, talking only with close friends.
"In high school, I was just popular," Green reflects. "But I was so full of insecurity, you wouldn't believe it."
His fortunes began to turn when Benson Polytechnic High School varsity basketball coach, Dick Gray, stopped the lanky, 6-foot 3-inch sophomore outside the school library. Having grown five inches over the summer, Gray saw a basketball potential in Green that he didn't see himself. After telling the sophomore he could make the varsity basketball team, he suggested that if he changed his class clown attitude he may also be able to get a scholarship and go to college.
Green calls the conversation a pivotal moment in his young life.
"A vision was given to me," Green says. "He called me to a new standard from where I was to where I could possibly be. Never had someone said something like that to me."
Green had similar experiences in what he calls his "preparation" phase. College coaches and staff helped direct him toward pursuing a degree in communications, for as he says, "as shy as I was in middle and high school, I loved talking." And as he continued to grow up unto the Lord, family Pastor Irving from Albina Christian Life Center in Portland helped him find direction.
"The right people came along and directed me, for which I'm so grateful, so happy," Green says. "My conversion gave me purpose to who I am, why I was here and where I'm going. I realized that just because I went to church didn't mean I was a good kid. I grew up in church, but it didn't grow up in me."
Quoting King David's preparation from the Bible, Green says this time in his life helped him distinguish opinions from convictions. As he speaks to youth and others he emphasizes knowing ones' convictions in contrast to listening to everyone else's opinions. Green points out his convictions on what he calls "fast women, fast cars and lots of money" were developed in this growing period.
"The preparation time delivered me, it prepared me," Green says. "I had entered a college where I was extremely popular, on the best team in the country, and so I had to figure out, how do I handle fame? My chips were in, I still wanted to know who I was and so I had to figure out how God wanted me to deal with that. It turned into, 'Ok Lord, you gave me this opportunity, how do you want me to deal with it?'… So when I got to the pros, there wasn't really any question on what I was going to do with the opportunities or temptations that came my way because I had taken care of those decisions long ago."
Deliverance was something the PAC-10 Player of the Year would need as he was drafted by the most star-studded team in the league in 1985. The NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, led by Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, selected Green with the 23rd pick. Known as "Showtime" for their flashiness and unpredictability on the court, the same could be said for some of their behaviors off of it.
However, staying true to his "Iron Man" character, Green showed his consistency in how he lived. He remained sexually abstinent his entire NBA career (he didn't marry his wife, Veronique, until 2002, a year after he retired from basketball) and set up Bible studies on the road for his teams while playing for three NBA championship teams and being named an NBA all-star in 1990. In 2011, Green received the NBA's Bobby Jones Award for character, leadership and faith in the world of basketball in the home and the community.
Today the well-spoken 6-foot 9-inch businessman reaches thousands of people through the A.C. Green Youth Foundation and other business ventures. Green says staying true allowed him to have exciting experiences on and off the court.
"I saw teammates not leading a spiritually intact life," Green says. "They wanted it, but could never cross over the threshold. But seeing guys actually get it have been 'wow' moments for me. Ten years after my retirement people are still doing the same Bible study activities — that's another 'wow' moment because we established a culture. They got it, they carried it and now they're moving with it."
Now Green looks to give the same opportunities he's had to others. Speaking to youths on the importance of abstinence and other social issues, he seeks to give young people the same vision others gave him. As he points out, kids don't want to just "sit on their butt and play video games, they want to be inspired."Comment on this story
And true to his Christian character, Green shows he cares. After speaking he spends time with people, making eye contact and asking about them. Despite being mobbed for attention, the celebrity doesn't go to the next conversation until he's sure he finished the last one. It touches those who meet him, prompting them to say things like "I've never felt more inspired" or "I feel like I can do anything."
As for his personal ambitions, Green says he loves business, education and people. When asked what his next project might be, Green shows his lighter side.
"I love shrinking our carbon footprint, even though I wear a size 18," he says. "Going green with A.C. Green just has a ring to it."