A.C. Green has not missed a day of work in almost 11 years. Let
others stop to smell the roses. He will stop to sniff the sweat
socks. His hardwood office may have been relocated--from Los
Angeles to Phoenix and now to Dallas--but he has remained
steadfast. When Green is asked what it's like to be on the verge
of setting the NBA record for consecutive games, his perpetual
smile vanishes for a moment before he decides that what he does
is not so different from his father, A.C. Sr., detailing Fords
at the dealership in Portland, or his mother, Leola, working as
a machinist at the Jantzen sportswear factory, or firemen
battling blazes or ministers preaching or the President of the
United States conducting the business of state.
You do your job. You are held accountable.
On Nov. 20, if all goes as planned, Green will play against the
Golden State Warriors in his 907th consecutive game, setting an
NBA record. There are war stories in any streak, tales of near
misses, and Green ticks his off with a quizzical detachment, as
if it had been someone else who kept playing through the deep
thigh bruises, the back pain, the torn ligaments in his left
thumb, the neck so sore he could turn his head in only one
direction, the jammed fingers and even "the J.R. thing." On Feb.
25, 1996, J.R. Reid of the New York Knicks threw a nasty elbow
that knocked out one of Green's bottom front teeth and loosened
another, which Green later yanked out himself in the locker
room. "Just take his reaction when that happened," says Kevin
Johnson, one of Green's Suns teammates at the time. "A.C. just
looked at the guy, picked up his tooth and walked out. Nobody in
his right mind would react in such a calm manner." Green, fitted
with a Jason-style mask, played the next night in Utah. Coach
Cotton Fitzsimmons would use him sparingly in Phoenix's next 12
games, but Green and the streak survived.
So what to make of Green's streak? Is it in the same ballpark as
Cal Ripken's 2,478 games? Ripken's streak spans 1,577 more games
than Green's but only four more full seasons. Is that close? How
do you compare a shortstop turned third baseman to a power
forward? "An undersized power forward," notes current Suns coach
Danny Ainge, who played two seasons with the 6'9", 225-pound
Green. Says Mavericks general manager Don Nelson, "You play
power forward in our league, you can't run away from anybody.
You've got to get in there and duke it out every night."
The apple-versus-orange debate would be swirling except for one
small detail: Few people seem to care about Green's streak.
Ripken's durability is a subject of national significance, but
only Dallas (and only if it can take its mind off the Jerry
Jones-Barry Switzer two-step) will be counting down to 907. The
relative magnitude of the streaks--"And A.C.'s is very
comparable," says Ainge, a former major league utilityman--has
little to do with their games and everything to do with the men
involved. Ripken, a two-time American League MVP, a model of
probity in a sport that has lost its way, broke the seemingly
unassailable consecutive-games record of Lou Gehrig, Pride of
the Yankees, the greatest first baseman in history. Eleven games
into this 1997-98 NBA season, Green will surpass the one and
only Randy Smith.
Smith was a quick, smooth guard who clung on defense and clanged
jump shots for four franchises during the 1970s and early '80s.
Smith is no Gehrig, and Green, alas, is no Ripken. While Green
started on the 1987 and 1988 championship Lakers teams, he was a
Showtime straight man for Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and
James Worthy, a complementary player who was not overly athletic
but was energetic on defense and got his points off the
offensive boards. Green has never averaged 15 points per game
for a season. He has never averaged 10 rebounds. He was named to
the 1989 All-Defense second team and started in the 1990
All-Star Game. That's about it, although as Knicks fan Woody
Allen once said, 80% of success is showing up. Really, all Green
has done since Nov. 18, 1986, when then Lakers coach Pat Riley
last glued him to the bench, is play hard, well and selflessly
for 30-plus minutes a night. He has shown up.
That explains Green's consecutive-games streak. Then there is
his other streak.
"This one," Kevin Johnson says with a sly smile and a small
shake of the head, "is even more impressive than the other. Cal
can't ever match that streak."
A.C. Green, 34 years old, says he is a virgin. And proud of it.
A.C. Green is sleeping in this morning. He doesn't get out of
bed until 6:15, almost an hour later than usual. Green doesn't
get up before God as much as he gets up with God, studying the
Bible and praying before first light because he finds these
minutes every bit as precious as the ones an NBA coach doles
out. This day begins with Green cross-referencing Psalms 50 and
71 and ends at 11 p.m. when he peels the ice packs off his
cranky knees in a deserted locker room an hour after a
six-point, 17-rebound exhibition performance against Phoenix.
This is a typical day, if you discount the point total. Green is
usually good for double figures.
The future iron man is still flesh and blood. "I am curious
[about sex]," Green says over pancakes. "But not curious enough
to go to the violation point. I figure God created it, so it
must be good. But he has created it to take place at a certain
point of time--within the confines of marriage. If I'm going to
live according to rules God laid out, then there are rules A
through Z. There can't be situational ethics."
On Aug. 2, 1981, in a church in Hermiston, Ore., Green heard a
sermon titled "Do You Want to Go to Heaven or Do You Want to Go
to Hell?" The 17-year-old Green figured he was doing swell in
the all-important everlasting-grace column--at least until the
minister convinced him that he should follow a path that was
even straighter and narrower. On the third call from the pulpit
to step forward and be saved, Green lurched to his feet and
handed over his life.
So Green began filling the lane on the path to righteousness.
Rectitude, not attitude. He would draw national attention while
at Oregon State not only for his play but also for protesting
the sale at the campus bookstore of Playboy, a magazine that,
incidentally, was touting him as an All-America. Those clever,
impious Pac-10 students--especially courtside heathens at rival
Oregon--would hold up centerfolds when Green shot free throws.
Then he was drafted by a team that had pinups sitting courtside.
In 1985 Green was summoned to Los Angeles--Gomorrah with a
freeway system--to join Magic, Worthy and friends. If
autobiographies and a police blotter are to be believed, those
Lakers got around some.
At a team dinner the night before training camp opened in Palm
Springs, Magic, the emcee, asked the rookie to sing the Oregon
State fight song.
Green didn't know it.
A current Top 40 song then?
Green, who only occasionally listens to radio or reads
newspapers, didn't know any of those, either. But, he said, if
someone could come up with a gospel song, he would try that.
"Looking around that room, I was pretty nervous," Green recalls.
"That guy's been on a Wheaties box, that guy's been on the cover
of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, that guy's been on a late-night talk
show. But I wanted to be sure they knew where I was coming from."
Green sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. It would not be the last
time he would find himself out of tune with his new teammates.
"That first year about four guys were saying, 'We've had guys
come on this team before talking that Christian stuff. We're
going to give you six weeks. You'll see this girl come into the
Forum. You'll start getting your paychecks.' I called Greg Ball
from the Champions for Christ ministry, who is my spiritual
coach. I told him, 'You won't believe what these guys said.
[They said] that in six weeks I'm going to be Judas, basically.'
"There were always team parties, although I never knew about
them directly. There would be guys in the locker room after the
game, getting spruced up and everything, slapping some extra
foo-foo juice on, and I'm like, 'What's the deal?' and they'd
say, 'Nothing, nothing.' So I'm like, 'Oh, is there another team
function I'm not invited to?'" Green giggles at the memory. "I
remember asking Pat Riley a couple of times about 'unofficial'
team get-togethers. I'd say, 'Coach, is this one I have to be
at?' and he'd say, 'No, you probably don't want to be there. You
won't get fined if you miss this one.'"
Green needed two years to convince the Lakers that his faith was
neither a passing fling nor a last resort. He didn't change the
NBA, but the NBA didn't change him, either. Some teammates have
edited their conversation in his presence, and others have
blasphemed nonchalantly, but Green has stood above it all. These
days, when the Dallas locker room air turns blue, Green will
glance over at center Shawn Bradley, a devout Mormon, and they
will roll their eyes in mutual support. Occasionally Green
speaks up. "If they use some fancy curse words," he says, "I
might say, 'Boy, did you pick that up in college? Did the
professor emphasize that was one of the words you should use in
a complete sentence?'"
Last month Green was lifting weights when a teammate loosed what
Green refers to as "an F bomb." Green told himself, "O.K., that
was a slip." (He, too, will comb his vocabulary for phrases to
express anger; his favorites are she-whiz, doggone it and c'mon,
Ace.) Then his teammate went nuclear again. "When we go to your
hometown and see your mama after the game," Green chided him,
"I'm going to remind her of what you said."
"No, man," pleaded the teammate. "I've got it under control."
Green has it all under control. He says he will wait to partake
of this good thing God created, as his beliefs demand. He says
he looks forward to marriage and fatherhood but isn't seeing
anyone special. He never has been engaged. There are, he says,
no war stories in this streak, no near misses.
As Green discards the ice packs almost 17 hours after his
glorious day began, his mind lights on the idea that Nov. 20
should be a day to celebrate "my values and my sentiments,"
honoring the kind of man he is rather than the man himself. Good
luck. He is thinking high concept, and so far the Dallas
marketing department is considering dressing up Mavs Man, the
team mascot, in a number 907 jersey, distributing commemorative
prints to fans and throwing a postgame party at Planet Hollywood
to celebrate the accomplishment of a man who won't touch
alcohol. Invitations have been extended to Ripken, Doug Jarvis
(the Dallas Stars assistant whose 964-game streak from 1975 to
1987 established the NHL's iron-man standard), Magic, Worthy,
former Lakers teammate Michael Cooper, Evander Holyfield, whose
skill and faith Green has long admired, and, naturally, the one
and only Randy Smith.
Then there's the question of when to hold the ceremony. The
Mavericks can't do it before tip-off because technically Green
won't have played 907 yet. Having it after the game might be
anticlimactic. Even halftime could be a problem because Green
wouldn't want to miss any chalk talks.
The Mavericks will figure it out. In life, as in public
relations, there is a time for everything. As Green will tell
you, it's just a matter of finding the right one.
MOST CONSECUTIVE NBA GAMES PLAYED, ALL TIME
PLAYER GAMES DATES
Randy Smith 906 Feb. 18, 1972-March 13, 1983
A.C. Green 901 Nov. 19, 1986-current
Johnny Kerr 844 Oct. 31, 1954-Nov. 4, 1965
Dolph Schayes 706 Feb. 17, 1952-Dec. 26, 1961
Bill Laimbeer 685 Nov. 15, 1981-Jan. 27, 1989
Harry Gallatin 682 Nov. 27, 1948-March 12, 1958
Michael Cage 662 April 23, 1989-current
John Stockton 609 Feb. 13, 1990-current*
Jack Twyman 609 Nov. 15, 1955-Oct. 29, 1963
James Donaldson 586 Feb. 6, 1981-April 8, 1988
*Began season on injured list.
MOST CONSECUTIVE NBA GAMES PLAYED, ACTIVE PLAYERS
PLAYER TEAM GAMES
A.C. Green Mavericks 901
Michael Cage Nets 662
John Stockton Jazz 609*
Karl Malone Jazz 473
Hersey Hawkins Sonics 385
Steve Kerr Bulls 334
Johnny Newman Nuggets 313
Danny Ferry Cavaliers 255
Jeff Hornacek Jazz 245
Terry Porter Timberwolves 204
*Began season on injured list.