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His Work Ethic Shines Through in His Play : Lakers: A.C. Green turns up game, but his life remains one of peace and faith.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What do you have when the hardest-working man in Showtime kicks it up another notch?

A.C. Green.

A Laker left over from a happier time, a Laker almost by accident, Green soldiers on in the post-Magic Johnson era, not merely as before but better. Coming off the bench, he leads the team in rebounding and his scoring average, 13.5, is the best of his career.

“A.C.'s been terrific,” Coach Mike Dunleavy says.

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“He’s done some things he’s never done in the past. In the past, teams would be able to play smaller people on him (and) put their bigger guys on James (Worthy) and Magic. That was one thing I asked him to go home and work on.

“He’s really carried the load for us. He’s one of the reasons we have the record we have right now.”

He’s still A.C. Green, an original.

Few NBA players are as devoutly religious and combative.

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A born-again Christian who plans to become a minister, Green says he hasn’t had sex since he entered the NBA. A bachelor, he didn’t date for the first five years, but says he has been involved with a woman for about a year.

He hates bad language. He was once heard on the court, telling Charles Oakley, with whom he was engaging in a night-long wrestling match, not to curse.

Says Green: “The thing that people ask is, how can you play, not only in the NBA but my style in the NBA--physical, bumping, elbowing--and be a Christian?

“I never second-guess it. That’s the way I see biblical warriors. I see them concentrating on the job at hand. Their motto was always to fight, destroy and possess what the rule of God told them to.

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“It’s a mentality that I have because I’m not the biggest by stature or the bulkiest by weight. My strength has to come from inside of me. That’s where my strength lies.”

Reared in a religious family in Portland, Ore., Green resisted as a teen-ager. He was a basketball star, taking Benson Tech to the Oregon state title, and became a prize recruit at Oregon State.

“I just noticed that I was sort of out of line in my own personal life,” Green says. “I considered it important, even though I didn’t want to hear about God. I wanted to make sure I’d go to Heaven. I thought I could do it my own way. . . . But I sure couldn’t do it just playing basketball, that’s for sure.”

He gained peace of mind . . . and tumbled in the NBA draft.

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At 6 feet 8, 225 pounds, he was going to be small for an NBA power forward. He believes his religious devotion scared scouts off, too.

Jerry West was delighted to select him 23rd in the 1985 draft.

His new teammates were similarly pleased and accepted him, sermons and all, after only a little discussion.

“It was hard in the beginning,” Magic Johnson says. “He did it all the time then.

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“Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and I talked to him. We told him, ‘Everybody might not have the same beliefs as you. You have to understand them, and they have to understand you.’

“We have a bond. He’s the one who has really been good for me through all this. . . . I love him for that.”

Within two seasons of his arrival, Green replaced Kurt Rambis in the starting lineup.

In his fourth season, Laker fans voted him to the All-Star team, even if he was obliged to acknowledge his triumph over Karl Malone was more popularity contest than merit.

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After his fifth and sixth seasons, by which time his salary was up to $1.7 million, he was trade bait.

Two summers ago, he was offered to Cleveland for Hot Rod Williams.

Last spring, he almost went to Golden State in a draft-day deal for Terrell Brandon.

Last summer, Miami managing partner Lew Schaffel openly broadcast his interest.

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Fortunately for the Lakers, nothing worked out. On opening night in Houston, Green scored 28 points.

As before, however, this was a flash of lightning rather than a new pattern. In his next five games, he took a total of 21 shots.

By then, however, Johnson had announced his retirement and his teammates were trying to regroup. Green was not merely playing hard, but in a frenzy.

His shots began dropping: his post-up arsenal of jump hooks and turnaround jump shots, and his long-range shots.

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Says Dunleavy: “He’s a better player now than he was last year.”

It’s no accident. In his seventh season, Green still burns with the same fire. If it ever flickers, he will quit--but don’t hold your breath.

“After every season, I pray and ask the Lord, ‘How much longer do you want me to play this particular game?’ Because I like the game, but I’m not in love with it and I never have been,” Green says. “It’s something I enjoy, but I don’t want it to become such a passion I can’t live without it. And it will never be, because I won’t allow it.”

The Lakers are a distant second or third, but don’t mind.

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